Sunday, May 2, 2010

Promises, Promises

As long as the two leads, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, were onstage I enjoyed this Broadway revival of Promises, Promises, which is directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, but the music (Burt Bacharach), lyrics (Hal David) and book (Neil Simon) aren’t strong enough to sustain interest without them.

Chenoweth I knew was born to do musical comedy and she’s appealing as Fran Kubelik, a young working girl in 1962 New York who is having an affair with a married executive at Consolidated Life, the company where she works. She doesn’t have much to go with in this seriously dated show, but she gives it her best.

Hayes was a complete unknown to me, although I might have been the only one in the theatre who had never heard of him. He had been on a TV series called “Will & Grace” and seemed to have many fans in the audience before he even opened his mouth. I was impressed that this is his Broadway debut. He is thoroughly winning as Chuck Baxter, a low-level Consolidated Life employee eager to get ahead and who also happens to have a major crush on Fran. Hayes’ voice, timing, movement -- everything -- seem right at home, as if he were a Broadway musical veteran. He gives Chuck just the right amount of sincerity and little guy charm, and skillfully handles the device in which his character frequently addresses the audience to comment on his situation.

But then there’s the rest of the show, which is based on the 1960 Academy Award-winning Billy Wilder film "The Apartment." The plot should be fun -- Chuck finds he can get ahead at work by allowing his higher-ups to use his small Manhattan apartment for their trysts. This spirals out of control as more and more execs turn to him and he finds himself out in the cold most nights. He suffers along admirably until he discovers that one of the women being brought to this little love nest is none other than his longed-for Fran.

This is the humorous part, but too much time is spent at the office and I really didn’t care about those people. At two hours and 40 minutes the show is too long for what it has to offer. It could happily lose three songs in the first act -- “Where Can You Take a Girl,” in which the married guys at the office sing about their frustrations in trying to have affairs, “Wanting Things,” in which the boss (Tony Goldwyn) shares his frustrations, and “Turkey Lurkey Time,” a bunch of gaudy busyness set in the office Christmas party.

The best of the bunch song-wise are the pop hits made famous by Dionne Warwick, “I Say a Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” done here as a nice duet between Hayes and Chenoweth, with Chenoweth playing the guitar, and “Promises, Promises.” These songs are at best pleasant little tunes, but the rest are limp, and forgotten as soon as the last note is sung.

The 1968 original show, produced by David Merrick, starred Jerry Orbach and Marian Mercer, both of whom won Tonys the following year for their work. It received six other nominations, including one for Best Musical and for Michael Bennett’ s choreography. It ran for 1,281 performances and was one of the first mainstream Broadway musicals to offer a score of commercial pop-sounding music.

For more information on this production, visit

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