How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying | Stages St. Louis

Succeed-in-Business 75All of the performances in this production are top shelf. 

Succeed-in-Business 500

Book by Ace Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert

Music by Frank Loesser

Music and Lyrics by Shepherd Mead

Stages St. Louis keeps their 28th season rolling right along with “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” The story centers on a young window washer, J. Pierrepont Finch (Ben Nordstrom) who has big dreams of making his way to the top of the corporate world.

Utilizing a book instructing him to climb the rungs, Finch makes his way into the company of World Wide Wickets where he meets a colorful slate of characters. Among them is love interest, Rosemary Pilkington (Betsy Dilellio), the president of the company, J.B. Biggley (Whit Reichert), the president’s sniveling nephew Bud Frump (Joseph Medeiros), personnel manager Bert Bratt (Steve Isom), Bratt’s witty secretary, Smitty (Claire Neumann), sexpot Hedy Larue (Heather Ayers), and Biggley’s no nonsense secretary, Miss Jones (Johmaalya Adelekan). To say this is an ensemble cast is an understatement.

While the cast did an amazing job portraying their characters, the dialogue and the songs are also pretty sensational. Sharp and quick paced, the story kept the audience laughing. The songs are memorable and fantastically produced.

For example, the song “Coffee Break” sets the bar high as office workers lament about their addiction to coffee. Neumann was the star of this number as she proved she has the pipes to captivate the audience. “The Company Way” is another very clever song lyrically as well as technically. The choreography of the number was outstanding and showcased Nordstrom’s physical comedy and his vocal brilliance. Special kudos to Bill Bateman for his portrayal of Twimble in this number. His performance was memorable and endearing.

My favorite number of the evening came towards the end of the production. “Brotherhood of Man” is a fabulous number from start to finish. While the whole company was engaging to watch, I was blown away by the vocals of Johmaalya Adelekan. Serving gospel/R&B realness, Adelekan turned it out. The amount of energy and soul she put in her performance nearly stole the show. I say nearly because all of the performances in this production are top shelf. 

What can I say about Nordstrom? The man is a star with a capital S. I call him a quadruple threat. He can sing, dance, act, and has an endless supply of charisma. His portrayal of Finch could be the crown jewel in his already impressive acting career. The man sparkled every time he hit the stage and he deserves every accolade he gets for this performance. While I could go on and on about my love of his performance, there are several others that deserve mention as well.

Medeiros is outstanding as Bud Frump. Every physical move he made was over the top as was his sniveling vocal performance. This is the character I loved to hate, and I could not get enough of him every time he hit the stage.

There was something about Claire Neumann’s performance as Smitty that made me smile the entire production. The woman has stage presence and the ability to know when to turn on the shine. Her performance was another comedic highpoint.

Then there is Heather Ayers’ performance as the very sexy Hedy LaRue. Her performance left me speechless in a good way. Her character may be stereotyped as a dumb blonde, but Ayers gave the character an air of class and sophistication. In a word, her performance was inspired and brilliant. Yes, I know that is two words, but trust me, her performance deserves both.

Whit Reichert impressed me with his portrayal of J.B. Biggley. Playing the straight man in a world full of colorful characters is a tough job, but his physical comedic abilities served him well as his facial expressions kept the audience in stitches.

Betsy Dilellio turned in a charming performance a Rosemary Pilkington. Her vocal performances were delightful. I felt she got just a bit lost in this cast. Don’t misread this—she does a very good job, but in a cast of this caliber she really has to fight to shine.

Steve Isom is a St. Louis legend in the acting world, and I would be remiss if I did not mention his work as Bert Bratt. Isom has stage charisma that endears him to the audience, and I was glad to see his dancing skills put to good use in this production.

While I have highlighted several individual performances, I would like to congratulate everyone in this large ensemble cast. The whole cast works extremely well with one another.

Visually, James Wolk and Matthew McCarthy did outstanding jobs as scenic design and lighting design, respectively. Both of these men really deserve a pat on the back for a job well done. And believe me honey, I was looking at everything and all the sets and lighting were spectacular.

As usual, Lou Bird and Jeff Shearer did an exemplary job with the costumes. I appreciated the vivid colors of the costumes as they add to the camp aspect of this production. Special kudos for the gowns in the number “Paris Original” as well as the outfits in “The Pirate Dance.” I don’t want to give too much away, but trust me, these costumes are breathtaking.

My last congratulations is to director Michael Hamilton. This man is a brilliant director, and I congratulate him on getting the most out of his actors. The success of this production falls squarely on his shoulders as he has created a world which I never wanted to leave.

Firing on all cylinders, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is a must-see production. I really can’t remember the last time I have enjoyed a musical production this much. In a theatrical community that is rife with fabulous productions, this is a rare jewel in St. Louis musical theater that will go down in history. | Jim Ryan

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” runs Tuesday through Sunday through August 17. The Robert G. Reim Theater is located at 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. Ticket prices range from $20 for students to $57 for general admission. You can visit StagesStLouis,org for the full list of ticket prices. 

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