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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying ~ The Musical Comedy ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
June 7, 2018 

Here’s a golden age show presented by Broadway Center Stage that everyone can get behind – frothy, lighthearted, funny and sweet.  It’s a story of a young up-and-comer who rises from window washer to CEO thanks to a DYI guide How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a harbinger of the ever-popular “…For Dummies” manuals.  Following the manual as he achieves ever-higher positions in the company, its advice is spoken aloud by an unseen voice that sounds uncannily like Bebe Neuwirth, though she’s not mentioned in the playbill. (In fact, there’s no credit for this part.)

Skylar Astin and Betsy Wolfe ~ Photo by Teresa Wood

By following the book’s advice, our hero J. Pierrepont Finch (Skylar Austin), climbs to the top rung of a large company through a combination of savvy and sheer chutzpah, plus the help of Rosemary Pilkington (Betsy Wolfe) an adorable secretary who sets her cap on him.  As a new hire, ‘Perri’ starts in the mailroom, but he always seems to be in just the right place at the right time to overhear when positions are opening.  Using his guile, and the book’s instructions, he finesses his way around the CEO’s hapless nephew, Bud Frump (the inimitable Michael Urie) in his ambition to reach the top at any cost.

Michael Urie ~ Photo by Teresa Wood

I hadn’t seen the show in decades, but thanks to this top tier cast and their pitch perfect voices, I enjoyed its charms all over again.  Some of the greatest tunes to come out of Broadway musicals were by composer Frank Loesser and writer Abe Burrows.  “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” (before the women’s movement, of course), “Been A Long Day”, “I Believe in You” and “A Secretary Is Not a Toy”, (unfortunately, still relevant).  Revivals of this musical comedy have proven wildly successful and the show won two separate Tony Awards for Best Musical when Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliff played the leads in different productions.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning musical masterpiece derives from a book of the same name by Edward “Shepherd” Mead in which the author recounts his real-life experiences navigating the corporate culture in an ad agency.  Does this sound like the premise for the TV show Mad Men?  To be sure!

Brilliant dance sequences choreographed by Denis Jones with the full Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, it also features DC songstress Nova Y. Payton who steals the show in the number “Brotherhood of Man”.

John Bolton and Ensemble ~Photo by Teresa Wood

I’d say, “See it!”, but it flew out of town in a few days.  Be sure to look for more of these semi-staged concerts produced by the Kennedy Center and get your tickets in advance as they sell out fast.

With Skylar Austin as J. Pierrepont Finch, Tally Sessions as Milt Gatch/Tonybee, Dwayne Clark as Joe Jenkins, Michael McGrath as Twimble/Wally Womper, Sean Bell as Tackaberry, John Michael Higgins as J. B. Bigley, John Bolton as Bert Bratt, Joaquina Kalukango as Smitty, Michael Urie as Bud Frump, Nova Y. Payton as Miss Jones, Becki Newton as Hedy LaRue, Katerina Papacostas as Miss Krumholtz, Vishal Vaidya as Johnson/Ovington/TV Announcer, Harris Milgram as Matthews, Colin Cunliffe as Peterson, and Casey Garvin as Davis.

Directed by Mark Bruni, set designed by Scott Pask, and conducted by Todd Ellison with Musical Direction by Jay Crowder and costumes by Amy Clark.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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