Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Botticelli in the Fire
The creation of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser and bookwriter Abe Burrows (along with co-authors Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, who did not share the Pulitzer Prize) originated in the era of "Mad Men," with powerful and imperious businessmen (emphasis on men) squashing their underlings and hitting on their secretaries. Still, the points it raises about corporate culturethe conflation of conformity with job security, the jockeying for position, even an early take on anti-harassment trainingare just as sharp today. (Maybe even more so, as the finale suggests that a poseur who has risen to the top of a corporation might try politics next.)
The Broadway Center Stage series presents semi-staged versions of musicals in very brief runs, allowing talent from Broadway and Hollywood to participate. The cast is off book and does a knockout job down the line, under the strong direction of Marc Bruni and Denis Jones' choreography (most memorably, the contortions and headstands of "Coffee Break").
Skyler Astin, a bouncy young man best known for the Pitch Perfect movies, is adorable as J. Pierrepont Finch, the ambitious window washer whose climb to the top relies on shading the truth, sucking up to the right people, and casting blame where it's convenient. He does it all with a goofy, innocent charm that suggests Robert Morse, who originated the role in 1961 and stars in the 1967 movie version, and a sweet singing voice.
The character of Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who sees an attachment to Finch as her way out of the steno pool, was always a master manipulatorsee how she maneuvers Finch into asking her to lunch. Betsy Wolfe just makes the character more contemporary; her coyness is transparent, her determination obvious.
John Michael Higgins, familiar from his "mockumentary" film work with Christopher Guest, is a delightfully stuffy J.B. Biggley, the CEO of World Wide Wickets. (What's a wicket? Who cares?) Pompous when challenged, forgiving toward those he sees as giving him proper respect, doting on his "friend" Hedy LaRue (Becki Newton, va-va-voom and obviously smarter than she lets on), doing a zany cheerleader routine with Astin, he is great fun to watch.
In smaller roles, Joaquina Kalukango is underused as Rosemary's friend Smitty; John Bolton squeezes every bit of humor out of Bert Bratt, the rubber-legged head of personnel; and the incomparable Michael Urie (last seen in Washington playing Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theatre Company) nails the petulance and withering wit of Bud Frump, Finch's rival and a poster boy for nepotism. And then there's Washington favorite Nova Y. Payton as Biggleys secretary, a small role that blasts off when she joins the men in the rousing, stage-filling "Brotherhood of Man" production number.