Last week was a joyful one for DC in more ways than just a Stanley Cup win. The Kennedy Center continued its production series Broadway Center Stage last night with a delightful take on Tony Award-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which runs through this Sunday, June 10. Starring Broadway star Betsy Wolfe (Waitress and The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and actor Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Glee, Ground Floor) and directed by Marc Bruni, this clever musical comedy was the perfect ray of light to add to Kennedy Center’s new series. From Todd Ellison’s musical direction to Denis Jones’s choreography to Amy Clark’s costumes, I was in awe of the flawless execution of this production.
Unlike many of the audience members that came to swoon over the Broadway classic, I’m new to the story of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I was pleasantly surprised by the feel-good, upbeat tale about how Astin’s character J. Pierrepont Finch schemes and sweet talks his way to the top of the corporate ladder from a window washer to high-powered executive. The musical follows the classic recipe of any good show: a sweet love interest (Wolfe’s character Rosemary Pilkington), a love-to-hate rival (Bud Frump played brilliantly by the hilarious Michael Urie) and special moments of strong camaraderie.
Astin’s star power and charming vocals that most of us know and love from seeing him in Pitch Perfect took over in the very first scene as he moved sharply across the stage with the fast-paced music and impressively articulated words of Finch’s first song, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” We then caught a glimpse of Wolfe’s incredibly clear and golden soprano voice as she belted Rosemary’s first solo, “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” which was reprised in the second act as a slower, more heartfelt performance as Rosemary kept her love-struck eyes set on Finch.
The third song of the first act, “Coffee Break,” performed by Frump, Smitty and company, was the production’s first fully choreographed song. Jones had the cast entirely in sync as they animatedly sang and danced to (including a few moves on the ground) an entertaining number about needing coffee to function at work, which most of us can relate to.
“Paris Original” was another show-stopping performance involving all the women attending the company party humorously in the same dress, and featured the confident voices of other female cast members like the soulful pipes of Joaquina Kalukango (Smitty) and the seductive voice of Becki Newton (Hedy LaRue). “Brotherhood of Man” served as the perfect lively segue heading toward the finale – it was a jovial performance, both choreographically and vocally, while serving its purpose of uniting the men and encouraging them to overcome their differences.
Some of my favorite moments were when characters broke the fourth wall by interacting with the majestic sounding orchestra. And when Astin and John Michael Higgins broke character by laughing for about a minute straight (over one of many amusingly raunchy jokes) before they moved on to their next lines, the audience was roaring. In a playful production like this, it’s refreshing to see evidence of a cast so tight-knit and comfortable with each other.
The victorious “Finale (The Company Way)” had the audience clapping and wooing, and gave us the magical theatrical ending we were all hoping for. One of my favorite characters, Nova Y. Payton as Miss Jones, broke out into delicate, soulful scats while the company kept up their energetic work to close out the night. While there are far too many brilliant actors, actresses, directors and designers to mention in one article, this lighthearted musical brought an easy burst of delight to Eisenhower Theatre, and was jam-packed with fabulous performances by all.
The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage series is presenting shows in a semi-staged concert format. Learn more here.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org