Adapted from the 1987 comedy movie starring Michael J. Fox, this world-premiere musical follows a recent graduate student, Brantley (the very talented Billy Harrigan Tighe), from the Midwest to New York City where he finds his corporate dream job axed the day he arrives. Undeterred, Brantley pleads his case to the slick CEO of the same corporation (Jeremy Peter Johnson, who has a more than passing physical resemblance to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos). He winds up in a menial temp job in the basement mailroom under the thumb of Garth Portnoy (Ian Michael Stuart, who shines as a petty tyrant). Through a comedy of errors, Brantley assumes the identity of a recently hired hot-shot junior executive, which leaves Brantley struggling to maintain two very different identities.
You might ask yourself: does the world need a new musical adaptation of a late 1980s comedy featuring a young man from the Midwest making a go of it in the Big Apple? Surprisingly, the creators of this musical answer this question in the affirmative, primarily by crafting multiple strong female leads. The first is Christy Lockhart (Sydney Morton), a tough-as-nails corporate climber living on Staten Island with her child and mother. While she falls hard for a mailroom temp masquerading as a junior executive, this love interest is nowhere near the beginning or end of her character. The same can be said for Vera Prescott (Heidi Kettenring), a successful businesswoman married to a true lout. When pressed to believe that her husband is having an affair with Christy, she responds not with vindication but with a softer search for truth, which in turn leads to friendship. Even Brantley’s mom (Barbara E. Robertson with a Minnesotan accent) is fleshed out as more than just another mother doting on her son. One can easily forget the hokey plot, which gingerly steps into workplace behaviors made public by the #MeToo Movement but otherwise remains firmly footed in a corporate culture that still has use for mailrooms.
Ultimately, it is the music that matters. Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler’s collaboration (lyrics and music) offers an impressive catalog of songs. While lacking that one true breakout number, their songs complement the story being told. At times their work is also hilarious. “You’re a D-Bag, Brantley Foster” is one of the funniest songs this side of “Book of Mormon.” Also humorous is “When You Feel Feelings,” which navigates the troubling ways men in power manage their emotions.
The production values are high as a whole. Amber Mak’s brilliant choreography and Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s lavish set design are put to good use by director Gordon Greenberg. Being a Paramount production, everything on stage is elevated by a rousing twelve-piece orchestra. As it is right now, “The Secret of My Success” is a well-crafted and highly entertaining musical worth the trip to Aurora and likely to be seen in many other regions.
Makes me wonder what Paramount could do with “Back to the Future.” (Noel Schecter)
Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora, (630)896-6666, paramountaurora.com, $36-$74. Through March 29.