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MHS students in the business of putting on a musical

By Bryan Richardson

Manhattan High’s latest musical is for everybody, but the business community might take a special interest in the production.

MHS’s thespians are presenting “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical based on the book of the same name that originally ran on Broadway in 1961. It will run next Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday.

It’s not a workshop, so the audience doesn’t necessarily have to take away any business tips. However, close attention could be paid to musical numbers about proper work relationships in “A Secretary is Not a Toy” and the alarming rate of caffeine dependency in “Coffee Break.”

After putting on “The Phantom of the Opera” last school year, Linda Uthoff said this musical is a shift in tone. “We wanted something happier and lighter and more upbeat,” she said.

“How to Succeed in Business” is about J. Pierrepont Finch, a window cleaner who climbs up the corporate ladder at World Wide Wicket Company using advice from the title book. The world Finch enters into is full of sabotage and romance, of which he is both a giver and recipient.

Finch is played by senior Da’Merius Ford. Ford said Finch is witty and quick on his feet. “Finch is slick,” he said. “He’s good with words. He talks around the point before he gets to his idea.”

Fellow senior Calib Harris plays Mr. Twimble, the head of the mailroom for 25 years who gets promoted to the shipping department. “I help Finch succeed in business without really trying,” he said as a reminder of the name of the play.

Harris said he likes the challenge of playing a man in his 50s. “You have to make him full of excitement, but at the same time, you have to make him old,” he said.

Both Harris in his eighth musical and Ford in his fifth are veterans of the genre. “It’s all about how you get to take something fictional and make it real,” Harris said. “It’s making the audience believe in the characterizations.”

Ford said he enjoys the relationship with the audience during a musical, where even one mistake is big. “It’s the feeling of being on the edge with the audience viewing,” he said. “It’s so much adrenalin.”

With the magnitude of a mistake in mind, the group went through a dress rehearsal to perfect everything from timing of the actors’ movements and musical and lighting cues to uneven blush and hairstyles that had been “loosey goosey.”

The style of hair and clothes is straight out of the 1960s, which should be familiar to those who grew up during that time or who happen to be a fan of the TV show “Mad Men.”

Uthoff said it’s a fairly large cast with 106 students participating and around 25 to 30 more in the pit orchestra.

Around 60 students worked behind the scenes on the set, lighting and construction.

“Our issue at Manhattan High is we try to incorporate as many kids as possible,” Uthoff said. “We always try to do a big musical.”

One cast member ready for the musical’s opening is senior Claire Freeby, who plays Hedy LaRue, a “ditsy, sassy, ambitious secretary” as described by Freeby. “I like it because I’m nothing like her, so it’s fun to become a different person and get out of my shell a little bit,” she said.

Playing Hedy is Freeby’s first big role, so she was understandably nervous during the beginning stages. “At first, it was really scary,” she said. “All the leads have done big roles in the past.”

Freeby said she has since gotten over that and is having a lot of fun. She said the good relationships off-stage translate on-stage in the musical.

“We’re all really good friends, so we have great chemistry and we’re very compatible,” Freeby said.

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