After forty years we may all need some work done on ourselves. A nip here. A tuck there. Not a complete make-over mind you but just enough tinkering to make ourselves look better. Such is the case with Broadway’s newest and best revival of the season, “Promises, Promises” which could be better called a revisal.
Where “I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House Is Not a Home” have been added to the already pop hit filled score (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” “Whoever You Are” “Promises, Promises”) and other numbers cut or moved to serve the purposes of Rob Ashford whose excellent direction and ubiquitous choreography keep things moving at a fast pace yet allowing his characters to move you with their bitter sweet story.
First produced in 1968, “Promises, Promises” was a hit then. Now it is even better. It is an uproariously funny and delightful musical-COMEDY written by Burt Bacharach (with his signature, unmistakable sound) and Hal David’s wise and witty just right lyrics with book by funny man Neil Simon based on the film The Apartment written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. With a pedigree like this not much could go wrong. And it doesn’t. If this show doesn’t put a smile on your face nothing will – better make funeral arrangements.
It doesn’t hurt that the recent sexual scandals involving John Edwards, Tiger Woods and Eliot Spitzer make the executives of Consolidated Life all the more timely and sleazier in their sexual trysts with female employees using the apartment of Chuck Baxter – a winning and disarmingly charmer of a guy hoping to get ahead, Sean Hayes. Who knew he could hold his own in a musical? He does more than that. He shines. He takes command of the stage, a surprising revelation. He is hysterical in delivering his lines and executing some physical jokes as well. And he has plenty of heart to spare.
Speaking to the audience in true Neil Simon manner – we meet the girl he secretly longs for, Fran Kubelik (the beautiful belter Kristin Chenoweth) and in his Walter Mitty mind set she longs for him. Not so. She is having an affair with his married boss, lothario J. D. Sheldrake, Tony Goldwyn, who is so obnoxious in the role, rightfully so, that he is booed by some at curtain call – as the character not for the performance which is excellent.
The Act II scene where Chuck goes half drunk to a local bar on Christmas Eve and meets Marge MacDougall (a delicious and master comedienne Katie Finneran) is comic writing and delivery at its utmost best. She just about but doesn’t quite steal the thunder from Ms. Chenoweth. This scene alone would make any mediocre show a hit. But “Promises, Promises” has so much more to offer.
For starters, the very droll portrayal of Dick Latessa – Dr. Dreyfuss, Chuck Baxter’s next door neighbor who admires his sexual stamina, mistakenly believing that it Mr. Baxter and not the many executives that are enjoying the wiles of all the woman coming and going and who treats the attempted suicide of Fran. It’s not all fun and games. But balanced very well. Even this scene has terrific humor and heart.
Then there are the Scot Pask sets and costumes by Bruce Pask, and the amazing orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick where we have what used to be called “pit singers” now re-named “orchestra voices” some great underscoring and backup singing by celestial voices which make “Promises, Promises” heavenly. A return to the best of what Broadway musical-comedy can offer. Great music, lots of laughs and terrific performances. Who could ask for anything more?
Photo: Joan Marcus
At the Broadway Theatre. www.promisespromisesbroadway.com