Promises, Promises -- Theater Review



It seems we have "Mad Men" to thank for the buoyant new production of "Promises, Promises," receiving its first Broadway revival since its premiere more than 40 years ago. This musical adaptation of Billy Wilder's classic film "The Apartment" has clearly tapped into the '60s era nostalgia so vividly rendered by the AMC television series.

While there are plenty of quibbles to be found in this production directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford and starring Sean Hayes (in his Broadway debut) and Kristin Chenoweth, it's a generally winning evening that restores a much needed dose of musical comedy to Broadway.

The book by Neil Simon -- faithful to the original source material but lacking its darker, satirical edges -- contains plenty of hilarious laugh lines to go along with its more poignant moments, and the bouncy score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David remains an unalloyed delight.

The story revolves around sad-sack life insurance company employee Chuck Baxter (Hayes), whose professional and love lives are both at a standstill. Desperate to claw his way to junior executive status, he discovers that the path to upward career mobility is by lending the key to his West Side apartment to the company's randy executives (Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Benson, Sean Martin Hingston, Ken Land) for extramarital assignations.

Meanwhile, he's hopelessly smitten with his co-worker Fran Kubelik (Chenoweth), who's involved in a desperate love affair with her married boss, J.D. Sheldrake (Tony Goldwyn) and remains oblivious to Chuck's attentions.

The most original aspect of Simon's book is Chuck's humorously self-effacing comments directed directly to the audience, which get us thoroughly on his side. And while some of the jokes can be hoary -- especially the wisecracks delivered by Chuck's disapproving doctor neighbor (Dick Latessa) -- the evening is filled with genuine belly laughs.

But there's no shortage of emotion as well, especially thanks to Hayes' terrific performance in the lead role. Charming and appealing, the actor shows no traces of his familiar persona from "Will & Grace" and delivers a winning, low-key turn in which he also displays his superb timing and gift for physical comedy. (The latter particularly well displayed in a bit in which he attempts to navigate sitting on a modernistic chair.)

Chenoweth is a bit more problematic. The actress -- who, judging by the screams emanating from younger female audience members, has clearly retained her "Wicked" fan base -- seems miscast here, her sophisticated, harder edge not really suitable for her vulnerable, mistreated character (the young Shirley MacLaine was perfection in the film role). She handles her songs beautifully, of course, but her Fran seems too self-involved and self-pitying to garner our sympathy.

(As a way to beef up her role, the score has been augmented with two Bacharach/David classics -- "I Say a Little Prayer" and, less successfully, "A House is Not a Home." Although the songs are terrific, they also have the unfortunate effect of elongating the show's already lengthy running time).

Goldwyn is properly smarmy as the two-timing Sheldrake, and displays a serviceable singing voice in his handful of numbers. But the real standout among the supporting players is Katie Finneran who -- in just a couple of scenes in Act 2 -- all but steals the show with her hilarious turn as a drunken barfly to whom Chuck turns for solace.

Director Rob Ashford has staged the proceedings with a fast-paced breeziness, although his efforts to fill the vast Broadway Theatre stage -- this cavernous theater is hardly ideal for this essentially intimate musical -- are occasionally strained. But his choreography, frequently influenced by '60s era dance styles, is both exuberantly joyful and consistently witty.

Venue: Broadway Theatre, NYC (Runs indefinitely)
Presented by: Broadway Across America, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Weinstein Company/Terry Allen Kramer, Candy Spelling, Pat Addiss, Bernie Abrams/Michael Speyer, Takonkiet Viravan/Scenario Thailand and Norton Herrick/Barry & Fran Weissler/TBS Service/Laurel Oztemel
Book: Neil Simon.
Music: Burt Bacharach
Lyrics: Hal David
Cast: Sean Hayes, Kristin Chenoweth, Tony Goldwyn, Katie Finneran, Dick Latessa, Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Benson, Sean Martin Hingston, Ken Land
Director/choreographer: Rob Ashford
Scenic design: Scott Pask
Costume design: Bruce Pask
Lighting design: Donald Holder
Sound design: Brian Ronan