As I stood outside the Broadway Theatre, my original thought was maybe the name for this production should’ve been changed to lines, lines. The appeal of this play was obvious from the procession of people with tickets in hand anticipating the opening of the doors. While I slowly made my way inside the venue, I had another thought. I realized that every time the curtains rise on a stage a promise is made. So what do you get when you combine a concept based on a Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond screenplay, a book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David? You get a formula for success, success. And that is exactly what the revival of Promises, Promises is.
Sean Hayes, Kristen Chenoweth and cast had huge shoes to fill. The original 1968 production garnered a Grammy award for Best Cast Recording and two Tony awards. The simple, soft, yet potent elegance of Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s music is deeply woven in the fabric of pop culture. Songs like “I Say a Little Prayer”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Promises, Promises”, and “A House Is Not a Home” have been indelibly ingrained on the psyche of any music lover thanks impart to iconic singers like Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin. The musical is based on the hilarious, Oscar winning comedy, The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClain. Although I was not alive when the original musical appeared on Broadway, the music and movie it was based on is very familiar to me. Needless to say, I had high expectations and I was not disappointed.
From the opening overture to the reprise of “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, Promises, Promises delivered absolute amusement. What a joy it was to witness Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s music come alive in a way I had never experienced before. Sean Hayes was born to play the charming, ambitious to a fault Chuck Baxter, a young bachelor that works at Consolidated Life. Will & Grace showed he had the comedic chops, but his overall talent shines in this musical comedy. He is exceptional in his Broadway debut, so much so that his portrayal of Chuck has garnered a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. His constant breaking of the fourth wall in order to narrate the story was a scream.
Kristen Chenoweth is simply adorable as the sadder but wiser Fran Kubelik, the young waitress that has an affair with a married executive, played by Tony Goldwyn, and is the girl of Chuck’s dreams. Her renditions of “Whoever You Are”, “A House Is Not a Home”, “I Say a Little Prayer” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” are heavenly. She and Sean are a delight to watch and have great chemistry.
The slinky, Fossesque choreography of Rob Ashford was right on queue. The hip-swiveling, energetic moves harkens back to a time when the mash potato, frug and monkey ruled. Rob Ashford received a Tony nomination for Best Choreography and it is well deserved. Combined with the orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick, 2010 Tony nominee for Best Orchestrations, Promises, Promises provides its audience with a knock out punch.
For me the breakout star of this musical comedy is Katie Finnerman. She is a sensation as the brassy, sex-crazed Marge MacDougall. She delivers some of the most side-splitting lines of the show and is one of the reasons why “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing” has become my favorite number. Tony Goldwyn and Dick Latessa also give stand out performances as J.D. Sheldrake, the womanizing executive, and Dr. Dreyfuss, Chuck’s cynical neighbor.
Set in Manhattan during the early 60s, Promises, Promises transports the audience back to a simpler time just before the nation lost its innocence from the eruption of Vietnam War protests, assassinations and riots. The show is filled with unethical and immoral subject matter, yet in the wake of all the ills that plague us today, infidelity, nepotism, attempted suicide and turkey lurking hardly seems like issues that would raise any eyebrows. Besides, I so entertained by the performances of the cast that the depravity of the show themes did not register. Sexy…witty…gut-busting humor…memorable music Promises, Promises has it all. It is a tremendous triumph.
After seeing Promises, Promises I walked the streets of the new Times Square floating on a cloud of Bacharach. Once you see it, you will fall in love and stay in love with the revival of this groovy musical. I promise.
FAMERS to order discount tickets for Promises, Promises, click http://www.promisespromisesbroadway.com/PPAMC56.php.
Photos courtesy of Promises, Promises.com and Broadway.com