Lauren Crawford & Michael Detmer in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Photo courtesy of CenterStage.


How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert
Based on a book by Shepherd Mead
Directed by John R. Leffert

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2016, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

By today’s standards, the classic Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a mixed bag. It has undeniably great songs and several genuinely funny moments, but the script is so sexist and dated it’s hard to believe this material ever got off the ground even in the early 1960’s. I suppose its tale of men who must climb the corporate ladder at all costs and women who are content to be secretaries until they marry a tycoon can be considered a charming keepsake of a simpler-minded time; but the material just doesn’t play well in these more enlightened times. But then again, in this particular election year, maybe there is a point to be made?

Corporate climber Shepherd Mead published a satirical how-to book in 1952 based on his own experience climbing from window-washer to vice president, and that book spawned this musical which opened on Broadway in 1961. The original production featured the incomparable Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee (who reprised their roles in the 1967 film version, and their interpretations are considered the gold standard for the show) and has been revived several times, most recently in 1995 with Matthew Broderick and Megan Mulally and in 2011 with Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. And now Louisville’s own CenterStage has revived it once again.

For the uninitiated, the show’s rather silly story involves J. Pierpont Finch (Michael Detmer) a window-washer with dreams of corporate advancement who finds inspiration in reading Mead’s book. Before long, and through a series of increasingly unbelievable bouts of comedic dishonesty, backstabbing and trickery, he manages to climb the corporate ladder from the mailroom to Vice President of Advertising and beyond. Meanwhile, he butts heads with the big boss J.B. Biggley (John Youngblood), incurs the wrath of Biggley’s sniveling nephew Bud Frump (Miller Kraps), and wins the love of secretary Rosemary (Lauren Crawford).

The show is terribly dated with its depiction of men as the money-earners and none of the women in the show have any ambition beyond marrying well, including the leading lady. That’s a problem in this day and age, but if you can shore up your suspension of disbelief, there is still a lot of fun to be had in this energetic show. It’s difficult to dislike a show with such show-stopping hit Broadway classics as “Brotherhood of Man”, “I Believe in You”, “The Company Way”, and “Paris Original”, among so many others.

Other than a few dropped queues and slow pickups that I noticed during the opening night performance I attended, (at one point it looked like the actors got so lost that several pages were skipped and at least one major plot point went unexplained) the performances are across the board excellent and buzzing with talent and energy. Detmer plays the devious main character with such a sense of joy that you can’t help but root for him, and his singing and dancing steel the show. Crawford is quite lovely as the rather vacuous love interest, and Kraps may be the show’s best asset as the lovable villain.

In other roles, Marcus Fisher makes a hilarious impression late in the show as CEO Womper, Jenna Lenore Ryan is a hoot as Rosemary’s fellow secretary Smitty, and Rusty Henle leaves an impression as quarter-of-a-century-man Twimble, playing it the Company Way. And finally, Kristy Calman nicely downplays the role of Biggley’s secretary Mrs. Jones until she shockingly breaks out and practically steals the final number from the main cast. Really nice work all around.

On the technical side, Michael F. Hottois’ set nicely creates the atmosphere of the World Wide Wickets Corporation, nicely highlighted by Theresa Bagan’s lighting design and director John Leffert’s costumes. Leffert’s direction keeps things moving at a quick pace despite a couple of overly lengthy scene changes, and Frank Goodloe III’s choreography is energetic and fun.

For the show as a whole: if you turn your mind off and don’t think too much about the story, the musical numbers and performances will sweep you off your feet. It’s another success for CenterStage and should please fans of classic Broadway.

Starring Jessica Adamson, Kristy Calman, Jim Craig, Lauren Crawford, Michael Detmer, Marcus Fisher, Jared Giles, Lars Hafell, Rusty Henle, Erin Jump, Mandy Kramer, Miller Kraps, Amanda Kyle Lahti, Sam Mannino, Jonathan Mills, Teagan Newman, Jenna Lenore Ryan, Brittany Nicole Scott, Austin Seeley, Margo Wooldridge, and John Youngblood.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

March 31- April 10, 2016

Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205


Craig Head ShotCraig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.