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A CurtainUp Review
Promises, Promises


Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer
Promises, promises
I'm all through with promises, promises now
I don't know how I got the nerve to walk out
If I shout, remember I feel free
Now I can look at myself and be proud
I'm laughing out loud

—Title song as sung by Chuck (Sean Hayes)
Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes (Photo: Joan Marcus)
For years it seemed like it was only promises and more promises for the 1968 musical Promises, Promises with a score by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics). A well-received staged-concert version in 1997, part of the City Center Encore Series, suggested that Broadway was ready for a full-scale revival. The good news is that the collaborators of this new production have made good on the promises and delivered the goods we've been waiting for. After 13 years, a slick and polished revival has finally made it to Broadway with a personable, attractive, talented and hard-working cast in the hands of director-choreographer Rob Ashford.

What a joy it is as framed in scenic designer Scott Pask's cool and sleek settings. How exactly do you capture the finer qualities of a show that was once deemed timely and titillating, but would in a changed world be viewed as irretrievably dated and also possibly disingenuously quaint? The answer is to play it straight, but playfully and most of all, play it for all its worth. . . and that's worth plenty.

The resolutely adorable Kristin Chenoweth and an irrepressibly personable Sean Hayes (making his Broadway debut) gleefully lead the entire company through this unconscionably disarming tribute to the kind of deplorable sexual shenanigans in the workplace that were destined to spark a social revolution. Some may feel that the plot's frequent displays of immature hedonism grow a bit tiresome, and that may be true. But I say, get over it.

Once upon a time the workplace was an uncontested playground for philandering husbands and those apparently available secretaries that composer Frank Loesser had labeled "toys" in his 1961 musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. There is, in fact, more than one similarity between the two musicals. Both involve the rapid rise through the ranks of the corporate world by an otherwise unassuming young male employee.

In Promises, Promises, a nebbishy bachelor Chuck Baxter (Sean Hayes) gains favor with company executives by permitting them to use his $86.50 a month New York apartment for their extra curricular dalliances in return for a boost up the corporate ladder. Life and love get complicated for Chuck when he discovers that Fran Kubelik (Kristin Chenoweth), the young woman who works in the company cafeteria and with whom he is secretly infatuated, is also the mistress of J.D. Sheldrake (Tony Goldwyn), his married boss to whom he has also given the key to his apartment.

There was a real and prescient indication in 1968 that Promises, Promises would be leading the way into a new era of pop musical theater. The highly successful pop composer Burt Bacharach with lyricist Hal David made a notable impact with their hip, flippant and swinging score for this musical version of Billy Wilder's hit 1960 film The Apartment. The show also boasts a smart and funny book by Neil Simon feeds upon the prevailing sexual codes and presumably progressive mores of the 1960s. That Simon's lines have retained their glib and laugh-inducing sparkle is also a tribute to the players. Hayes, in particular, makes virtually every one of his line resonate with meanings and inferences that I imagine even Mr. Simon hadn't thought of.

Hayes, who is most famously known for his role on the hit TV series Will & Grace, made theatergoers take notice of him in the New York City Center's Damn Yankees. Forgive me for gushing, but I can't think of another musical comedy performance this season more genuinely engaging and generously comical than the one given by Hayes.

The show opens with an indication of how easily and effortlessly Hayes controls a scene. You won't take your eyes off of him in this brief, but brilliantly executed prologue in which he sits unnoticed at his office desk eating a sandwich while the other employees (male and female dancers) are making whoopee on, over and under the furniture including the coat hangers. Throughout the show, Hayes also has the audience eating out of his hands with the script's endearingly personal asides to the audience.

If the petite Chenoweth is known for her vocal prowess as much as for her beguiling luminescence, I have to admit that she doesn't have many opportunities for expressing more than her disillusionment with her romance with the rake Sheldrake. She does her best, however, to keep up with Hayes razor-sharpened theatricality. She sings like a dream not only the folksy "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," but also two popular Bacharach songs — "I Say a Little Prayer," and, newly added to this production, "A House in Not a Home."

Promises, Promises
Katie Fineran (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Katie Finneran makes the most of the sure-fire role of Marge, the sloshed and seducible woman who Chuck picks up in a seedy bar and takes home. Draped in what she calls her "owl" furs, Finneran is hilarious as this revival's designated show-stopper. She earns the audience's most rapturous approval. If the audience isn't likely to take kindly to the reprehensible behavior of J.D. Sheldrake, you can blame it on the very believable performance by Tony Goldwyn.

It is musical theater's loss that Bacharach and David didn't follow up their Broadway success with another and that their singular contribution, Promises, Promises, unlike other musical hits somehow slipped out of sight and largely out of mind for many years. Those of us who saw the original can remember the excitement generated along the Rialto by the new sound and rhythms that were Bacharach's musical signature. The title song was a huge hit for songstress Dionne Warwick. Hayes now nails it big time.

It is great to report that the dancing, especially by the men augmenting the "She Likes Basketball" number is refreshingly and robustly reconsidered by Ashford (the show was originally choreographed by the up and coming genius Michael Bennett). And what a raucous "Turkey Lurkey Time" is had by the shapeliest of employees and their ardent male pursuers dressed in their business suits no less.

Some musicals were once custom tailored to please the tired business man. Just think how far we have come in 40 years: This splendid comically-driven revival will surely appeal just as much to all the tired business women who are also in need of an office break.

Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer
Simon has made his case for loving everything about the Promises, Promises revival. I too was smitten with Sean Hayes what energy, what charm. . .a very Neal Simon-like character but one who can sing and dance. Speaking of Neal Simon characters, I'd like to add a shoutout for Dick Latessa as Chuck's neighbor and a doctor of the sort they don't make any more. And, yes indeed, someone has to write a show just for Katie Fineran.

As someone who's mad about Mad Men, television's take on the Madison Avenue advertising world in the same era as Promises, Promises, a word about the frequent comments about how the popularity of that show (it's going into its 3rd season) had a lot to do with encouraging the producers to bring back this show with its similar workplace sexism. Naturally, with an hour each week (not counting commercials) Mad Men has had a chance to create more complex subplots and characters, including the wives of the office lotharios. If Jon Hamm who plays Don Draper, the Creative Director and Partner at the Sterling Cooper ad agency and serial adulterer could dance and sing he could be Tony Goldwyn's understudy.

But while Promises, Promises has even adjusted its date (1962) to take advantage of the Mad Men factor, comparing the two is a case of apples and oranges. Mad Men is as much about the work done in the office as the extra-currical activities. It's a serious soap opera a good one, but a soap opera nevertheless.

Promises, Promises, is set in an insurance office so that the work being done is of little interest to anyone and thus easily replaced by lots of lively dancing and Burt Bacharach's enjoyable and very hummable songs. So don't count on next season's Mad Men to have Don Draper, his colleagues or his discontented wife burst into song instead of lighting up yet another cigarette.
Promises, Promises
Book by Neil Simon
Music by Burt Bacharach
Lyrics by Hal David

Cast (in order of appearance): Sean Hayes (Chuck Baxter), Tony Goldwyn (J.D. Sheldrake), Kristin Chenoweth (Fran Kubelik), Keith Kuhl (Eddie Roth), Brooks Ashmanskas (Mr. Dobitch), Megan Sikora (Sylvia Gilhooley, Miss Polansky), Peter Benson (Mike Kirkeby), Cameron Adams (Ginger, Miss Della Hoya, Lum Ding Hostess), Sean Martin Hingston (Mr. Eichelberger), Mayumi Miguel (Vivien, Miss Wong), Dick Latessa (Dr. Dreyfuss), Ken Land (Jesse Vanderhof), Ashley Amber (Miss Kreplinski, Helen Sheldrake), Brian O'Brien (Company Doctor, Karl Kubelik), Helen Anker (Miss Olson), Sarah Jane Everyman (Kathy, orchestra voice), Kristen Beth Williams (Patsy, orchestra voice), Nikki renee Daniels (Barbara, orchestra voice), Chelsea Krombach (Sharon, Orchestra Voice), Ryan Watkinson (Night watchman, New Young Executive), Matt Loehr (Lum Ding Waiter), Adam Perry (Eugene), Katie Finneran (Marge MacDougall)
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Bruce Pask
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes including intermission
Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway
(212) 239 6200
Tickets ($136.50 - $56.50)
Performances: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday Saturday at 8 PM, matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.
Previews began 03/27/10
Opened 04/25/10
Review by Simon Saltzman based on press preview 04/22/10
Musical Numbers
Act One
    Half as Big as Life / Chuck Baxter Grapes of Roth / Chuck Baxter and Bar Patrons Upstairs /Chuck Baxter You'll Think of Someone /Fran Kubelik and Chuck Baxter Our Little Secret / Chuck Baxter and J.D. Sheldrake I Say a Little Prayer / Fran Kubelik and Girls Basketball /Chuck Baxter Knowing When to Leave /Fran Kubelik Where Can You Take a Girl? / Mr. Dobitch, Mr. Kirkeby, Mr. Eichelberger and Jesse Vanderhof Wanting Things /J.D. Sheldrake Turkey Lurkey Time /Miss Polanski, Miss Wong, Miss Della Hoya and Employees of Consolidated Life A House Is Not a Home /Fran Kubelik li>
Act Two
    A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing / Chuck Baxter, Marge MacDougall and Bar Patrons Whoever You Are / Fran Kubelik Christmas Day / J.D. Sheldrake, Helen Sheldrake and Party Guests A House Is Not a Home (Reprise)/ Chuck Baxter A Young Pretty Girl Like You / Chuck Baxter and Dr. Dreyfuss I'll Never Fall in Love Again / Fran Kubelik and Chuck Baxter Promises, Promises / Chuck Baxter Promises, Promises (Reprise) / Fran Kubelik and Chuck Baxter
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