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Newport Production of "How to Succeed..." is Family Affair

How to advance from window washer to the executive penthouse in two buoyant acts is the plot of  How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a Frank Loesser gem from the Golden Age of Musicals. It’s on stage at Footlighters in Newport through Nov. 7.

H2$ is a satire of Big Business that never gets old as J. Pierrepont Finch (Robert Breslin) follows the instructions in a little handbook to fly up the corporate ladder. (Pay attention: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”) 

One big difference between then and now -- today there would be plenty of sexual harassment suits flying around the office. Or at least we can hope so.

Caitlin Ingram, who teaches theater at Villa Madonna in Villa Hills, plays Rosemary, the secretarial object of Ponty’s affection. At Footlighters, she’s surrounded by family: Her parents Chuck and Liz Ingram met in 1980 while working on H2$ at Xavier University. He played the comic role Bud Frump, she was a secretary. Fortunately, dance partners were paired by height.

Twenty-five years later, they decided to audition for Footlighters’ production, “for old time’s sake,” said Chuck. This time Liz is still a secretary, but she’s been promoted to right hand of the big boss; Chuck plays two roles, head of the mailroom and chairman of the board.

Also in the secretarial pool is Maggie Ingram King, Caitlin’s sister. (Hey, it was the Sixties. The ceiling wasn’t even glass.) Caitlin says being on stage with so many family members “is great fun. We grew up a theatre-loving family; to be in a show together only feels natural.”

H2$ isn’t just sentimental for her parents – it is for the entire family. It is, Caitlin points out, “sort of where it all began for my family.”

The musical is ever-young, she suggests, because what was timely satire then is still familiar -- and funny. The observations that worked a half-century ago are still about men and women in the world of business are still plenty familiar. Its themes, Caitlin says, can apply to American life beyond business.

She’s a fan of Rosemary, who decides Ponty is her guy. “She’s always sincere. She knows what she wants and she goes for it. She is vibrant, bubbly, and honest with her feelings -- positive or negative. Those qualities are to be celebrated.”

Caitlin is in her third year of teaching at Villa Madonna and, she says, “I'm not shy about being a theatre geek in front of my students. Teaching them what I know and showing my passion for it is my way of displaying love for the craft. I often participate with them in activities to encourage them and to illustrate that I practice what I preach. Trust is my number one emphasis in teaching. Whether it be my theatre classroom or my English classroom, we can achieve to the best of our abilities without trust and respect for one another." 

Coming up at Villa Madonna this fall: Harvey, a classic comedy about a man and his imaginary BFF, a man-sized rabbit, playing Nov. 19-22; and a musical theater showcase on Dec. 1.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, through Nov. 7. Footlighters, Stained Glass Theatre, 802 York St., Newport. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Additional performance 8 p.m. Nov. 4. Tickets $20 plus $1 handling fee. 859-652-3849. More information:

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

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