ONE of the most underestimated of Frank (Guys and Dolls) Loesser’s musicals, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, is rarely performed in this country, in spite of a fine score full of hummable solo and chorus numbers.
The book was too strongly based in American business culture and humour to appeal to an average British audience. Much of the humour in Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s script fell on deaf British ears, and Weinstock and Gilbert had similar problems with their adaptation of Robert Thomas’ French play, Trap for a Lonely Man.
Full of quickfire repartee, it bubbles along at a pace which at times makes it difficult to follow the many twists and turns in the story of the honeymooning Daniel Corban, desperately searching for his missing wife and faced instead with someone he declares is an imposter. The question is who is telling the truth – Daniel, or his “wife,” Elizabeth. And are wise-cracking detective Inspector Levine, priest Father Kelleher and local delicatessen owner Sidney all they appear to be? Any clue to the answers would spoil the enjoyment of audience members.
With Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing for14 years in the enormously successful TV series Dallas), and Linda Purl (Richie and the Fonz’s girlfriend in Happy Days and Pam Beesly’s mother Helene in the American version of The Office) in the roles of Daniel and Elizabeth there is no question that the principals have the right pedigree to capture the style of this adaptation.Under the watchful eye of director Bob Tomson, Gray O’Brien (Inspector Levine), Ben Nealon (Fr Kelleher) and Hugh Futcher (Sydney) readily went in search of the right mixture of comedy and thrills in the script.
The cause was aided greatly by Julie Godfrey’s design, placing the story firmly in a 1960s luxury log cabin in the Catskill Mountains.
Despite all those skilful combined staging efforts and the talents of the actors, the director couldn’t avoid a few unproductive moments in the quest for that most elusive theatrical animal The Comedy Thriller, leaving you with the feeling that the production would have scored far more heavily if played before a New England audience rather than one from the West of England.
Interestingly some theatres on this tour describe Catch Me if You Can as a psychological thriller, which is how Lucienne Hill and John Sutro’s British translation of Robert Thomas’ play Trap for a Lonely Man was described, and was the style in which it was played. There was certainly more comedy thriller than psycological thriller in the production stylishly presented at Bath’s Theatre Royal.