Corporate ladder climber engages in some funny business en route to the top

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 6, 2018

 From left, Amber Fullmer and Kevin Fitzhenry star in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the musical satire, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

From left, Amber Fullmer and Kevin Fitzhenry star in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the musical satire, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Some older plays don’t hold up well, but the cast and crew for Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the 1961 musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” say that this show is actually timelier now than ever.

The Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning show — which runs March 11-24 at the Pierce Middle School auditorium in Grosse Pointe Park — is a send-up of corporate culture that also looks at sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace — a topic that’s been getting a great deal of scrutiny in recent months.

Director Dennis Wickline, of St. Clair Shores, said he remembers as a child seeing parts of the production on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which he watched at his grandmother’s house on Sunday nights.

“It’s a satire,” Wickline said. “It’s tongue-in-cheek. After (personally) spending 38 years in corporate America, it’s true to life. This is probably more true today than it was in ’61.”

In GPT’s version of “How to Succeed …” Kevin Fitzhenry, of Warren, stars as J. Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious young man who uses advice from the cartoon manual “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” — a real book at the time — to rapidly scale the ladder from window washer to corporate vice president. In the process, he gains the aid and attention of a secretary, Rosemary Pilkington — played by Amber Fullmer, of Oak Park — and earns the ire of the lazy and scheming Bud Frump, the nephew of business owner J.B. Biggley.

Fullmer said one of her first memories of seeing a stage show was watching the musical number “Paris Original” — which is in “How to Succeed …” — and laughing at the witty sketch. Besides humor, she said this show points out inequities in the corporate environment.

“I think it’s politically relevant,” Fullmer said. “There are a few references to harassment in the workplace.”

Notably, all of the secretaries are female and all of the executives are male in the show.

“They definitely make fun of it,” Fitzhenry said of the sexism that existed in 1960s American offices — and even today. “All of the women are very smart, and the guys are kind of dumb.”

The exception is Finch, who’s sly but also endearing.

“He finds peoples’ weaknesses and finds ways to exploit them,” Fitzhenry said. “(The show) really gets into how far would you go to succeed.”

The cast also includes Ron Otulakowski, of Eastpointe, as J.B. Biggley; Deb Dworkin, of Berkley, as Hedy LaRue; Tom Pagano, of Sterling Heights, as Bud Frump; Sarah Seely, of Hazel Park, as Smitty; Don Bischoff, of Macomb Township, as Mr. Bratt; Eddie Tujaka, of Grosse Pointe Farms, as Mr. Twimble/Mr. Womper; and Jackie Pfaff, of Chesterfield Township, as Miss Jones.

The ensemble consists of Peter DiSante, of St. Clair Shores; Patrick Sharpe, of Eastpointe; Patrick MacCollum, of Berkley; Erin Ann DiSante, of St. Clair Shores; Robby Mullinger, of Grosse Pointe City; Brad Hardecki, of Grosse Pointe Woods; Rob Bertetto, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Sharon Nelson, of Grosse Pointe Park; Julianna Brenner, of Grosse Pointe Park; Amanda Nummy, of Shelby Township; and Kristina Kamm, of Grosse Pointe Woods.

With its uptempo songs and comic send-up of the business world, the cast and crew say this show should be a crowd pleaser. Surprisingly, Wickline said GPT has never produced this show before.

“I think we’ve got a really good cast,” Wickline said. “It’s something I think our audiences will get a kick out of.”

Pierce Middle School is located at 15430 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park. Free parking is available for the show, as is complimentary valet parking. Tickets cost $25. For advance tickets or more information, call the GPT box office at (313) 881-4004 or visit