In the Metropolitan Theater’s revival of It Pays to Advertise, two reunited college buddies go into business despite the fact they lack any experience, office space, or even a product to sell. Instead of merchandise they decide to sell an irresistible campaign slogan, creating a hilarious mixture of business and pleasure delightfully combines rapid dialogue, multiple façades, and bumbling characters. Demand soon rises, and their fast-talking, dizzying sales pitch leaves consumers ready to buy and investors ready to sign.
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
It Pays to Advertise is a rollicking story of an entrepreneur who gets fooled into thinking he wants success. Rodney Martin (Scott Kerns) is son of soap baron Cyrus (George H. Hosmer) but has no interest in the business. Instead, he leads an aimless, blissfully uncomplicated life, sponging off his father’s hard work. He proceeds to push his luck even further when he declares his love for his father’s secretary, Mary Grayson (Maire-Rose Pike): he’s cut off without a cent. In truth, Mary’s working with Cyrus: if she can turn Rodney into a successful businessman before the end of the year, Cyrus will give her a raise and a commission of Rodney’s net profit.
The show is filled with good chemistry, starting with Rodney’s first hire, his old college buddy, Ambrose Peale (Brian Cooper). They make a flawless team: their arguing and scheming is lightning speed comedy. When he’s not acting, Cooper must freelance in the marketing sector, for he believes in and relishes his lines with a passion that would make any used-car dealer jealous. This captivating duo is all the more appealing with Pike’s brilliant portrayal of Mary. In equal measures, we get Rodney’s sweet and encouraging fiancée and the shrewd businesswoman hell-bent on winning a bet. Her perfectly-drawn duplicity even dupes the audience, nobody knowing when to gauge her onstage persona as superficial or sincere.
The madcap comedy keeps flowing with the arrival of principal characters, specifically Ellery Clark (Aaron Gaines) and the Comtesse de Beaurien (Nalina Mann). While quite forgettable as Cyrus’s butler Johnson, Gaines gets a shot at redemption when he reenters as the son of a rival soap manufacturer, the artsy and impressionable Ellery Clark. At first swindled by Ambrose and Rodney to back their phony enterprise, Clark then falls for the Comtesse, a charming con artist. Spending the first half of the play speaking only French, The Comtesse de Beaurien comes on the scene to strike an international investment deal in the soap industry. During her dealings she upstages all others with her ringer performance, even almost convincing the foolproof Ambrose. She never quite achieves her ulterior agenda, but her elegant sex appeal and hard-boiled street smarts makes it an enjoyable effort to watch. In addition, her delicious 1930s slang adds a little film noir to this overall the screwball production.
The play’s detailed sets and costumes also tightly follow the script’s historical context, making for an uncompromising production. Heather Wolensky’s use of dark, masculine furniture and red velvet drapery provokes a serious business atmosphere—chock full o’ rubber stamps, checkbooks, and cigars—that meshes well with the less serious comedy. Rebecca Lustig’s vibrant costumes also add to the old-fashioned charm, with men in three-piece plaid suits and matching ties, and ladies with gloves and hats at all times.
This revival at Metropolitan Theater makes an insightful statement on the power of suggestion, the idea of a product versus its actual quality, and how investing in advertising is the best way to make money talk. A world in which one snobbish quip from Sideways can slash merlot sales and boost pinot noir purchases validates the show’s statement that 97% of the public believe what they hear when making expenditure decisions. If this extends to the theater, as the former Broadway press agent Peale tells Rodney, then allow me to help you and your friends make up your mind: it pays to see It Pays to Advertise.-------------------------------------------
It Pays to Advertise (2 hours 15 minutes; one intermission)
Metropolitan Theater (220 East Fourth Street)
Tickets (212-995-5302): $20 General $15; Students & Seniors; $10 Children under 18
Performances (through 5/31): Thurs.-Sats. 8pm; Sats. & Suns. 3pm