Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying" at the Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center's Center Stage series, allows for minimally staged short runs of productions.  This run included a cast of well known folks - Skylar Astin, Betsy Wolfe, Michael Urie, Becky Newton, and John Michael Higgins to name a few.  I had seen "How to Succeed", ahem, quite a few years ago when they did the pre-Broadway revival run with Matthew Broderick.  So it was nice to come back to the same place for this version.  Folks who have seen or heard "Pitch Perfect", "Betty Ugly" or "Waitress" won't be surprised that this was a cast that sang well, and was able to be comedic when necessary.  "How to Succeed" is the story of Finch who finds the titular book and uses it's advice to finesse his way into the fast track in a large corporation.  Along the way he encounters Rosemary, who has goals of her own, aka a husband, and the boss's nephew who lacks Finch's finesse and charm but still wants to get ahead also.  The gender conformity is inherent in script.  That's not to excuse it, it's simply to note that it's not something that can be fixed with clever line updates. 
However, I think the show takes both of their goals seriously.  Certainly Finch gets more time, and Finch is the one who gets to wink at the crowd a lot.  Having Michael Urie play a conniving nephew is practically typecasting, but he was wonderful to watch and it was fun to watch Finch keep one upping him.  There was one moment where a particularly amusing pause in a line from Finch caused Biggley (Higgins) to break for a few seconds before he could recover his lines.  
This production did manage to have multiple people of color.  Usually Miss Jones is cast as African American, in part because she gets the more bluesy bits in "Brotherhood of Man".  But this production also had the wonderful Joaquina Kalukango as Smitty, as well as several ensemble members.  
I really enjoyed the production.