Review: 'Secret of My Success': Fox to Universal to Paramount to fun

In the 1980s and ’90s, Michael J. Fox had universal – and Universal Pictures – appeal, with films such as the “Back to the Future” trilogy. Although there are no time-traveling DeLoreans on display in this show, Universal Theatrical Group has unveiled a musical version of Fox’s 1987 film “The Secret of My Success” onstage at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre. The result, getting its world premiere at the Paramount, is a sweet, 21st-century version of the rags-to-possible-riches and romance story that’s thoroughly entertaining.

In the revised plot, “The Secret of My Success” tells the story of Brantley Foster (Billy Harrigan Tighe), a college-educated Minnesotan leaving his cannery job and his widowed mother to go to New York City. He’s all set to start his junior analyst position at Prescott Corp., only to immediately receive a pink slip because of the elimination of his position. Pleading with the company’s CEO, Piers Johnson (Jeremy Peter Johnson) – who Brantley has idolized for years as the kind of successful businessman he’d like to be – he eventually is rehired, but at the lowest rung on Prescott’s ladder: one of the lime green-shirted temps.

While Brantley is cleaning an executive office, opportunity calls – literally – and he finds himself with the chance to leapfrog into an analyst job by donning business attire and adopting the name of an absent new executive: Carlton Whitfield. As Whitfield, he hopes to garner the attention of another analyst, Christy Lockhart (Sydney Morton), a smart exec who wants more work-life balance but doesn’t get much time at home with her son and mother. Meanwhile, Brantley must avoid having his superiors – sadistic temps boss Garth (Ian Michael Stuart) and Piers – discover his Whitfield identity.

As if things aren’t complicated enough, Piers – married to the chairman of the board, Vera Prescott (Heidi Kettenring) – has his own amorous intentions toward Christy. And did I mention that Prescott Corp. – at the urging of Piers – is seeking to shut down the very cannery in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where Brantley’s mother (Barbara E. Robertson) works?

This production of “Secret of My Success” has music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler, with a book by director Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen. Although there were a few slightly delayed light cues on press night, I’m happy to report that was more than offset by a lot of pluses for this new show.

These include catchy songs in a variety of styles, from the romantic duet “A Ferry Ride” to a female empowerment song by Vera and the ensemble (“You Can Have It All”). There also is an awkward male-bonding song by Piers, Brantley and the ensemble (“When You Feel Feelings”), along with Brantley’s walking-on-cloud-nine production number, “I Got This.” Finally, there is a sweet song with Brantley (as Carlton) and Christy’s son that endears the Minnesotan to Christy, her mom and the audience.

Another plus is witty dialogue (e.g., Piers asking a human resources representative about Brantley’s plea for a job: “Is he singing to me?” – a very current comment about England’s royal family).

I also must note the well-designed set and projections that allow quick scene changes (e.g., when Brantley’s mom calls her son from St. Cloud, she’s positioned on a high walkway with the Prescott cannery building projected behind her).

Morton’s clear, beautiful singing voice is matched perfectly by Kettenring’s in a well-written Act II duet that segues from each character envying the other to mutual respect, “(I Think I) Like You.”

Additionally, an excellent 12-piece orchestra supports the cast without overwhelming their well-miked voices

Supporting characters such as friendly fellow temp Lester Mann (Gabriel Ruiz) get their own scene-stealing opportunities; Mann’s Act II solo, backed by the other temps, is hilarious.

At the end of the show, the closing number, “The Secret’s Out,” includes a number of enjoyable plot developments. I won’t spoil them for you, but now that “The Secret of My Success” is out, plot your course to Aurora for this “Success”-ful show.

• Paul Lockwood is an enthusiastic singer, frequent local theater actor, Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, occasional theater reviewer and past president of the TownSquare Players. Recent shows include “Morning’s at Seven,” “42nd Street,” “Once Upon a Mattress” and “On Golden Pond.”

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