MUSICAL: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Tickets available on the Kennedy Center website and discounted tickets may be available on TodayTix
WHERE: Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center (as part of Broadway Center Stage)
Being a business student myself on the job hunt, no show could be more aptly timed than this one. And I will say, it definitely has prepared me to climb the corporate ladder (and taught me that advertising may not be the best route for me, unless of course, I want to do some trying).
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a musical that first opened in 1961 winning six Tony Awards including Best Musical. It’s been on tours since and has had two revivals, most recently in 2011 starring Danielle Radcliffe in the lead role.
For me, watching this show was especially exciting because it was the first professional production I have seen of show that was not written in the 21st century. And I was definitely glad I bought tickets. The show was hilarious and what was fascinating to me was how relevant the themes in the show still are today. Director Marc Bruni put it best when he discussed in the playbill how usually there is difficulty in revivals from that age of musical comedy because “contemporary sensibilities clash with worldviews from a times of different sexual politics”. The show “both identifies sexual harassment as a common workplace occurrence and offers real consequences for transgressors: ‘they fired him like a shot/The day the fellow forgot/A secretary is not a toy.’ Even now, in a world with daily #MeToo revelations, it’s still clear not everyone is subject to the same rule.” Moreover, the show explores climbing the ladder in many different ways (from a businessman’s point of view to a secretary’s point of view), which I think makes the story especially powerful for the audience.
Even more interesting were the audience responses to the lines about the inefficiency of congress or how the President of the US should watch out for his job. While not necessarily meant to be as funny in the mid-20th century, given our current political climate (and a likely more politically conscious DC audience), there were large uproars of cheers and applause after the lines.
THE MUSIC: The music was insanely catchy and had harmonies and memorable tunes that you would expect from a Tony-winning 20th century musical. Equally exciting was the 17-piece orchestra, which is uncommon even on Broadway. Personally, my favorite songs from the show were “Paris Original”, “Coffee Break”, and “Been a Long Day” – filled with humor and catchy beats that I’ve been humming over and over again. The other songs, however, were all really good and the “Brotherhood of Man” was especially spectacular – an amazing high-energy way to (almost) end the show.
THE CHARACTERS and CAST: The cast was spectacular! For me, Michael Urie as the villain Bud Frump stole the show. The voice he chose and the mannerisms he used were hysterical, entertaining, and extremely effective in portraying the character. His mic stopped working for a few minutes and he improvised with finesse, holding a physical/traditional mic for a scene of the show. After the show, Becki Newton was telling us how this was her first stage performance and how she had never done anything like this before – no one could even tell, she was wonderful as Hedy LaRue. John Michael Higgins was hilarious as J.B. Biggley. Skylar Austin played the part of the corporate-ladder-climbing protagonist J. Pierrepont Finch extremely well and Betsy Wolfe was phenomenal as Rosemary (funny and killing the vocals). Sean Bell also stood out to me as extremely funny in his character.
The standout vocalist to me was Nova Y. Payton who absolutely brought the house down in “Brotherhood of Man”.
Watching this show was also a col experience for me because this was the first show in which I had seen some of the performers in other shows – It was awesome to see Kaitlyn Davidson (Bright Star Tour) and Vishal Vaidya (Groundhog Day) again!
THE SET and COSTUMES: I really appreciated a few things about the set. First was the screen in the background, the created a really cool effect when the characters went up and down the elevator. The executive washroom in “I Believe in You” was staged extremely well and it was a very cool setup in how the bathroom mirrors were created on stage. Also, I especially appreciated how the orchestra was visible to the audience and how the actors had the opportunity to interact with the orchestra at certain times.
The set and costume choices made me feel like I was in the 1960s, but it wasn’t drab or boring at all.
STAGE-DOORING: It was crazy to me how much more popular stage dooring at DC shows has become in recent years. The Eisenhower Stage Door is on the right side of the building (when facing the main entrance) on the side closest to the Watergate Hotel. There were really no organized lines and it became more of a mob around the actors, which was probably a bit crazy and overwhelming (for both actors and fans alike).
The cast was incredibly gracious and kind – they had to have been exhausted from rehearsals and long recent days in tech. But they were conversing with fans and extremely friendly and that was very kind of them. I had several great conversations with the performers that were all much appreciated.
OVERALL: Going through the job hunt, this show was a funny way to think about how I may “climb the corporate ladder” myself. I think every student who is on the job hunt or may be soon can definitely appreciate the show. How to Succeed is funny and the cast is extremely talented. The songs are super catchy. And of course, it’s always great to see some of your favorite Broadway and Television stars on the stage. If you’re in the DC area over the next few days, I could not recommend watching this interpretation of a musical classic enough. It’s at the Kennedy Center through June 10th!
View from Kennedy Center Plaza the night of the show