Arts / Performing Arts

Largely Forgotten Michael J. Fox Movie Gets the Full Broadway Treatment In Houston — The Secret of My Success Banks on the Power of Joy

TUTS Rescued This Show From an Early COVID Demise and Worked to Make It Better

BY // 10.27.22
photography Melissa Taylor

What’s the secret to a successful theater season? Well, Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars is banking on the power of bringing joy to audiences with a big production of the new show The Secret of My Success. This 21st century musical take on the late-1980s comic movie about corporate climbing starring Michael J. Fox, has had its own rocky ascent to the Hobby Center stage. But TUTS artistic director Dan Knechtges tells PaperCity that audiences can expect a “joy machine” of a show.  

With music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler and book by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen, The Secret of My Success world premiered in Chicago for a possible pre-Broadway run and garnered critical praise. But since it debuted in March of 2020, the COVID pandemic closed the show early, leaving it something of a successful secret.

For two years, the musical remained in limbo until producers came calling to TUTS right as the company was reorganizing the season after it lost another show due to a scheduling conflict.

Now, this Secret is running through November 6 at the Hobby Center. 

Taking a Chance on The Secret of My Success

Knechtges was listening to a demo of that The Secret of My Success music in his office when TUTS associate artistic director Monique L. Midgette walked in. 

“She said: ‘What is that? That’s the show we should be doing,’ ” Knechtges remembers.

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Knechtges describes the range of musical genres and influences in The Secret of My Success as “all over, in the best possible way,” with some songs reminiscent of Britney Spears type pop, hip-hop, Broadway pop and power ballads. 

That musical story centers around a young man named Brantley Foster, who moves to New York thinking he’s landed the perfect job. But when faced with early set backs that should send him packing, he creates a new persona to reopen company doors. With multiple kinds of love stories and lots of identity hijinks, there’s a lot of romantic and comic potential in the plot. 

Yet when talking about the show, Knechtges seems particularly drawn to the questions it asks, the types of questions we’ve all had to ponder these last few years, as we try to right the world turned upside down. 

 “What is success? All the characters are dealing with it,” Knechtges says. “Is success a big pay check? Is it working or is success loving another person? What is success and each of they come to a different conclusion.”

While this TUTS production keeps some of the elements of the Chicago show, “for the most part it’s all us,” says Knechtges who when deciding to choose The Secret of My Success for this season went all in. He is both directing and choreographing the show. 

Though based on the set of that first and only other production in Chicago, the TUTS set is new, as is the the lighting and costume design. There are also new dance numbers from Knechtges, who also happens to be a Tony-nominated choreographer. He explains that for brand new musicals sometimes the choreography isn’t always the first priority. 

“You never really have time to flush it out,” Knechtges says. “So choreography is kind of the last thing, and they didn’t really have much in the other production. We have a lot of production numbers. That’s something we did.”

TUTS The Secret Of My Success_Production Photos_Melissa Taylor Photography-130 (Photo by Melissa Taylor)
Brantley Foster (Ben Fankhauser) attempts to climb the corporate ladder to success. (Photo by Melissa Taylor)

 The original creative team also got busy making changes for this Houston production, with a completely new opening song, some cut numbers and one character that’s gone through significant changes. 

“Most of all we have new actors,” Knechtges says. “That’s also telling on a new musical because you do see where the writing is good and where the writing needs a little bit of work.”

That is part of the process to get this TUTS reworking of the piece ready for future productions perhaps in New York or across the country.

“You really do want to make it actor-proof or director-proof, so it basically turns out the same no matter who’s doing it,” Knechtges notes.

New and Favorite Faces

The Secret of My Success cast also represents a fine balance between some local favorites seen on many Houston stages and actors with Broadway experience like Ben Fankhauser, in the lead as Brantley, and Ashely Blanchet, who plays Christy Lockhart.

For those who remember the original film, some of the comedy, plot points and certainly character names will be the same, but Knechtges says the musical keeps a 21st century perspective. 

“The adaptation is inspired by the movie,” Knechtges says. “It’s been updated to the present. It’s dealing with technology and how somebody could remain anonymous in this day and age.

“It’s not as sexist as it was before. It’s made for a modern audience.”

TUTS The Secret Of My Success_Production Photos_Melissa Taylor Photography-461 (Photo by Melissa Taylor)
This TUTS production will feature Houston favorites and actors with Broadway buzz. (Photo by Melissa Taylor)

Knechtges also thinks it was made for TUTS and Houston audiences in need of an evening of laughter, characters to care about and songs they’ll be humming days later. 

“The thing about Secret that is perfect for us at TUTS, especially for this year that’s so difficult with everything that’s going on in the world,” TUTS artistic director says. “It’s a joy machine of a show.

“It’s so entertaining and joyful that I think we really need it as an audience.” 

The Theatre Under The Stars production of The Secret of My Success runs through November 6 at the Hobby Center. 

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