The Secret of My Success needs a sharper book | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Theater Review

The Secret of My Success needs a sharper book

The 1987 Michael J. Fox film gets a toothless musical treatment.

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UPDATE Thursday, March 12: this event has been canceled. Refunds available at point of purchase.


This musical version of the 1987 Michael J. Fox vehicle, receiving its world premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, tells a sweet, lighthearted story—plucky young man climbs the ladder of success from mail room to executive suite—that feels a lot like an updated version of Frank Loesser's 1961 Broadway hit How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, only without the bite or wit or heart. Where How to Succeed at least attempted to satirize American corporate culture (and largely fell short), The Secret of My Success is content to tell a story that would barely sustain one episode in a sitcom. Even though the story touches on some of the more devastating aspects of contemporary business (layoffs, plant closings, kleptocratic leadership), the show remains relatively toothless.

Part of the problem is the show's bland, cliche-filled book by Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) and Steve Rosen. You just can't tell an interesting story if you are content to give us, without irony, a show full of stock characters and predictable plot twists. The show's forgettable score, by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler, is less shallow than the book, though at times the songs often feel like pastiches of better-known pop tunes of the last 50 years. Still, the tunes are ear pleasing, and the lyrics are frequently playful and witty.

A larger problem though is that the show's story and message—the vanity of success, the importance of integrity and love—is too intimate for the big stage, and gets lost in all the singing and dancing and general Broadway glitz. Heidi Kettenring and Sydney Morton, as the two major female characters in the show, do a great job bringing heart and fire to the show. But Billy Harrigan Tighe brings no heat to his portrayal of the lead; again and again we found ourselves yearning for Michael J. Fox's sly Alex Keatonish charm.  v

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