Time marches on. It says something when one of the hot Broadway shows of one's youth now is a period piece. "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying", currently at Stages St. Louis, is just that. The last time I saw it, the whole sexist thing in it was just embarrassing. Now, it just seems a product of the times, like Berkeley Busby's chunky-by-today's-standards chorus girls.
That makes it easier to just sit back and enjoy the office antics of this comedy that satirizes the whole Man In The Grey Flannel Suit world. (And if you get that reference,the you'll also get one of the early jokes in the show that references Metrecal - canned diet shakes, they were, and perfectly ghastly.) But it's not necessary to even be a fan of "Mad Men" to have a good time. Machiavellian comedy is timeless, and the Frank Loesser score maintains its immense zip.
Here we have Ben Nordstrom as J. Pierrepont Finch, whose particularly angelic smile covers maniacal drive, and Betsey Dilellio, a newcomer to Stages, as Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who's instantly smitten with Finch. Nordstrom, who turns out to be more of a hoofer than we realized, has the impishness that the role demands, although it takes us a while to figure out just how intent he really is on corporate success. Dilellio makes Rosemary stronger than is often seen, which may make her seeming docility puzzling until one accepts that her goal in life is indeed marrying into the rose-covered suburban home. There's nothing demure about her voice, though; she grabs these melodies and owns them.
The ever-watchable Whit Reichert has fun as boss J. B. Biggley. Nevertheless, it's the exquisitely blowsy Hedy LaRue, played by Heather Ayers that creates constant giggles. She's also the cause for the outbreak of the song, "A Secretary Is Not a Toy", another reminder of what era this is.
Costumes by Jeff Shearer and Lou Bird are from the intersection of Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy, including an hysterical "Paris Original", a dress causing another song. The set, though, is distracting, a series of plastic panels and aluminum strips, the backlit plastic changing colors often, the effect, sans color changes, reminiscent of some post-WW II office buildings in New York but just about as impressive.
Overall, though, a fun evening with some good performances, a certain amount of bawdiness, and fine songs.
How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
through August 17
Stages St. Louis
Kirkwood Civic Center
111 S. Geyer Rd, Kirkwood