Daniel Radcliffe is ready to 'Succeed'
Before Daniel Radcliffe gave his regards to Broadway in February 2009 when his four-month run in the psychological drama "Equus" ended, he promised that he'd be back erelong -- and in a musical.
Obviously, he's a man of his word.
Sunday night, Radcliffe will take the stage of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where he'll transform himself from boy wizard Harry Potter to song-and-dance man in the latest revival of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
"I think that 'How to Succeed' was a great way for Dan to stretch himself as an actor after the 'Potter' series," said Rob Ashford, the show's director and choreographer. "He chose one of the most demanding things any actor can do, headlining a musical. I think the thrilling thing about this choice for Dan is that it came from his heart and not his head. I admire that so much from any artist."
"How to Succeed" continues Radcliffe's career path of taking on more mature roles after growing up on screen for the past 10 years in the hugely successful "Harry Potter" film franchise (a worldwide gross of $6.3 billion and counting). And with a salary in the range of $20 million to $25 million for the final two "Potter" films, he's in the enviable position of taking on only dream projects such as "How to Succeed."
"He always wanted to do a musical," said Elizabeth I. McCann, a founder of McCann & Nugent Productions, who was a producer on "Equus." "Many times, if I was looking for him, I'd find him at a karaoke bar doing show tunes. This show came along, and it's a perfect musical for him."
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, two of the producers of "How to Succeed," obviously agreed. They were the ones who came up with the idea of casting Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch, an opportunistic window washer, who, within weeks, uses his wiles to climb the corporate ladder several rungs at a time. At 21, Radcliffe is the youngest actor to play Finch on Broadway (Robert Morse was 30 when the original production opened, and Matthew Broderick was 33 in the 1995 revival), thus fitting Frank Loesser's lyrics of possessing "that upturned chin and the grin of impetuous youth."
"I thought it was a good match of actor and material and immediately got on board," Ashford said.
Shall he dance?
Radcliffe, however, did have one reservation. He had taken some singing lessons while working on "Equus," so he was confident that he could put over a song. Dancing, however, was a whole other Quidditch game.
"One of the first things Dan said to me when we started discussing 'How to Succeed' was that he was not a dancer," Ashford said. "I saw him in 'Equus' and felt he was an actor very in touch with his physical life. I set him up with one of my London associates, Spencer Soloman. Not long after they started their sessions, I got a call from Dan. He said he loved working with Spencer and not to count him out in the dance department."
By the time rehearsals began, Radcliffe dove into the production numbers, Ashford said. "He was determined to be able to lead the company on all fronts. We did not have to simplify any of the choreography because of Dan. He was able to do every step that we had envisioned."
Of course, the question remains whether audiences of 2011 will still find humor in Abe Burrows' book, a satirical swipe at Madison Avenue.
"The greatest challenge of doing any revival is instilling contemporary energy into a period piece," Ashford said. "You must be respectful to the time and place of the original but make the show feel and move like a new creation. The joy of having Dan Radcliffe and John Larroquette lead our company is that they have such a modern interpretation and delivery of the material."
To transport audiences back to the 1960s, Ashford and set designer Derek McClaine were inspired by the architecture of Eero Saarinen to create the theatrical version of a classic office tower for "How to Succeed's" Worldwide Wicket Co., Ashford said.
Costume designer Catherine Zuber turned to her color palette to pattern the retro fashions of the Kennedy years, from the wild plaid jacket and vivid aqua bow tie worn by Finch to the working-girl chic of his girlfriend Rosemary (Rose Hemingway) and the secretaries. "We wanted to define the hierarchy in the office with the use of color," Ashford said. "The darker your colors, the higher up in the company you are."
A youthful audience
Another benefit of Radcliffe's name on a marquee is the lure of attracting the "Harry Potter" generation to Broadway, an age group that might not normally go to a musical, let alone one set in an era when secretaries were viewed as playthings and 20-something females sang about keeping their husbands' dinner warm.
"It's so important to educate young people to the culture of live performance," Ashford says. "What better way than by giving them an actor they have all grown up with? Our hopes are that they come to see Daniel Radcliffe and go home having discovered the magic of musicals."
Sam Rudy, Radcliffe's press agent on "Equus," has no doubt that the actor will attract a younger crowd to the show. Many even showed up when Radcliffe did "Equus," even though he had a highly publicized nude scene. "I do think Daniel's starring in 'Equus' did bring in some younger fans that might not necessarily have come to see that show," Rudy says. "It might not have been appropriate for some of them, but his fans wanted to see him."
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" opens in July. In the fall, Radcliffe will be seen as a lawyer in the ghost thriller "The Woman in Black." And then, who knows?
"Daniel, one of these days, is going to do Shakespeare," McCann says. "He wants to play Puck in the worst way. So he might turn up in Central Park. It wouldn't surprise me."