by Rita Charleston
The Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., concludes its 205th season with an all-new production of Broadway’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical, “How to Succeed n Business Without Really Trying.” Based on the best -selling book of the same name by Shepherd Mead, the musical, written by Frank Loesser with a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, continues through July 13 on the WST Mainstage.
A musical satire of 1960s’ big business and all it held sacred, “How to Succeed” follows the rise of J. Pierrepont Finch, who uses a little handbook called “How to Succeed in Business” to climb the corporate ladder from lowly window washer to big shot executive. Along the way he tackles such familiar but potent dangers as the company man, the office party, backstabbing co-workers, caffeine addiction and, of course, true love.
Germantown’s own Joilet Harris plays Miss Jones, secretary to the big boss J.B Biggley. “As Biggley’s executive secretary, she really runs the company,” Harris said, “and although she’s not seen a lot throughout the show, when her presence is there, everyone stands at attention. And at the end of the show, she gets to do the really big number, ‘Brotherhood of Man.’”
Harris, who grew up in Germantown, went to Germantown High School, and considers herself a “real Germantown girl,” never planned on becoming an actress Her family kept pushing her to go to law school, but that just wasn’t for her. Instead, one day in 1981 when her cousin let her know that Freedom Theatre was conducting auditions, Harris decided to take a leap of faith and audition for a role. She got one in “The Gospelers,” and so began a successful career that’s lasted 33 years.
Over the years, her talents have been rewarded with a Barrymore Award for “Caroline or Change.” She’s also been seen on TV in such productions as the HBO series “The Wire,“ “Law and Order SVU” and “Do No Harm.” And recently she added the title of producer to her resume when she produced “The Meeting,” a fictional conversation between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
While she admits that she likes doing TV and film, and would welcome the opportunity to do more, she insists that the stage is where an actor truly hones his/her craft. Miss Jones is proof of that. “I really enjoy the role, especially because she’s not difficult for me to play. I can easily identify with her. She moves at a fast pace and is always doing something and going somewhere. Just like me.”
And while this show is not new — it premiered on Broadway in 1961, was released on film in 1967, had a Broadway revival in 1995 and a second revival on its 50th anniversary — audiences keep coming whenever and wherever it is staged. Harris, 56, thinks that’s because audiences can so identify with the idea of looking for a way to get rich quick without working too hard. “Everyone would like to do that; wouldn’t they? Plus, the music is outstanding, and audiences often leave the show whistling some of the tunes.”
Harris notes that although the theater is a very tough business, there are ways to make it. “For example, have faith enough to stay in the game. Plus, make sure you have a good support system behind you and a side gig to put food on the table. Some people look at success as being on Broadway or on the big screen. For me, I feel as though when you can feed your family and lead a life that’s comfortable and happy, you are a success.”
For times and ticket information to “How to Succeed,” call 215-574-3550 or visit the website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org.