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Promises, Promises

The Broadway revival of the 1968 musical delivers the goods as a star vehicle for Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth.

Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth
in Promises, Promises
(© Joan Marcus)
There's little question that the first Broadway revival of Promises, Promises at the Broadway Theater -- the 1968 Burt Bacharach-Hal David-Neil Simon musical adaptation of the poignantly funny 1960 film The Apartment -- has been built on the drawing power of its stars, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. And there's also little question that viewed as a two-star vehicle, Promises, Promises is absolutely enjoyable.

Yet while this revival -- directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford and featuring stylized 1960s sets by Scott Pask and 1960s-ish costumes by Bruce Pask -- has been slickly produced, it's not so slick that the material doesn't show signs of age.

Too many of the jokes misfire -- largely because of the dramatic changes in office politics over the past five decades. (The show is actually now set in 1962.) Moreover, the sexual politics of the period are in no way downplayed throughout Ashford's throbbingly kinetic work. Indeed, right from the increasingly libidinous goings-on depicted by the ensemble during the overture, they're exaggerated for theatrical effect.

The plot concerns Chuck Baxter (Hayes), a meek fellow hoping to rise to the top of the corporate totem-pole by lending his flat to the many philandering executives at Consolidated Life Insurance. Meanwhile, Chuck hungers for fellow worker Fran Kubelik (Chenoweth), without realizing she's one of the ladies spending the weekly illicit hour in his bedroom, specifically with Chuck's promotion-bestowing boss J. D. Sheldrake (a properly chilly Tony Goldwyn).

Besides singing with fervor, Hayes is a geyser of comic creativity. As he regularly proved on Will and Grace, he's always doing something with his eyes, his arms, or his legs to elicit genuine guffaws, and his timing makes many of Simon's lamer gags funnier than they actually are.

Rather than portraying Fran as a naïve, confused employee -- as was done in the film and the original Broadway musical -- Chenoweth reinterprets the part as someone more mature yet afflicted by impulses she can't fight. More importantly, Chenoweth proves once more that she knows how to deliver a song with steely finesse -- even when it's "A House is Not a Home," one of two Bacharach-David hits (the other being "I Say a Little Prayer") which has been inexplicably added to the already engaging score.

In addition to seeing the stars in action, the audience gets to watch a show-stealing turn from Katie Finneran as Marge MacDougall, a man-hungry barfly whom Chuck picks up (and is literally picked up by) during an alcoholic binge after he's learned the truth about Fran's dalliance with Sheldrake. Whereas original Broadway portrayer Marian Mercer grabbed the Tony Award for the role by extracting humor out of galloping depression, Finneran opts to play a loose woman who is so loose her limbs are barely attached.

Among the large supporting cast, there are also nice turns by Dick Latessa as Chuck's often-frazzled and ultimately helpful neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss, and Brooks Ashmanskas (toned down from his recent Present Laughter shenanigans) as Mr. Dobich, one of the quartet of corporate philanderers who use Chuck's premises for extra-marital play.

Even if this version of Promises, Promises falls short of consistently stellar status, the production is a reminder that Bacharach is a composer of ineffable invention and David is his perfect match as a lyricist. While they never made any promises otherwise, it's a pity they only wrote one Broadway musical.


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