Promises, Promises: Broadway Theatre, 6/8/10

22 06 2010

Having never seen the stunning Kristin Chenoweth onstage, I was thrilled when the initial casting notice came out for Rob Ashford’s revival of Promises, Promises. And paired with the hilarious Sean Hayes?  Yes, Hayes may be a TV star – always and already “Jack” from Will and Grace – but even his onscreen persona exudes “theater” through and through.  Along with most other fans, my expectations for Promises, Promises were high.

Previews started, the show opened, and mediocre reviews soon dotted my RSS feed – not to mention a ridiculous controversy about the openly-gay Hayes playing a straight character.  I remained hopeful as I ventured to NYC this June – but after seeing the production, I have to agree with most critics.  This revival of Promises, Promises is entertaining, but ultimately unmemorable.

I love a classic musical comedy, and the Neil Simon book – based on the screenplay “The Apartment” – clips along in a fast-paced, splashy 1960s romance.  Rising executive Chuck Baxter (Hayes) falls for the used-and-abused Fran Kubelik (Chenoweth), a charming office cafeteria waitress who happens to be sleeping with Baxter’s boss.  Coupled with Ashford’s vibrant choreography, the mod, mostly minimalist sets and sleek lighting help to effect seamless transitions among office and apartment environs.  Ashford’s choreography also shines in the delightfully superfluous ensemble number, “Turkey Lurkey Time.”  But little of Promises Promises truly soars.

Kristin Chenoweth offers an endearing performance, but the role of Fran demands little from her full dramatic and vocal potential.  Chenoweth slips into a folksy, Southern sound that disappoints after hearing her powerhouse Cunegonde in Candide:

Thus we come to the crux of my disappointment with Promises, Promises: I don’t like the score. At all. It is not that the score is dated, although bursting into a song about basketball is laughable.  Rather, my issue with the show stems from personal taste in musical styles. Rather than a brash Broadway sound, the show is filled with repetitive little pop ditties that never soar for me: the songs place few demands on their performers, are metrically shifty, and rarely draw the audience into a “spotlight moment.”  The “spotlight moments” are my favorite in musical theater: time seems to stop, the narrative washes away, and the focus turns to the (spotlighted) performer in the moment. Rather than a classic musical comedy, Promises, Promises reminded me more of a pop hit like Mamma Mia – especially with the distracting vocalise from offstage singers, creating a studio rather than a theatrical sound.

Sean Hayes’ voice is well-suited for a pop score, his “chemistry” with Chenoweth is fine, and his comedic timing is quite good – but he particularly shines when paired with the impeccable Tony Award winner Katie Finneran.  Act II’s opening scene stops the show with a riotous encounter between the drunken Baxter and his hooting hookup choice, Marge MacDougall (Finneran). Adorned in a fluffy owl coat, the rather tipsy Marge stumbles her way into the audience’s hearts and offers an hysterical respite from the prolonged Act I.  If only the rest of the production could sustain the energy, enthusiasm, and classic musical comedy buoyancy of this remarkable – and memorable – scene.




3 responses

3 07 2010
Jen Fingal

It’s about basketball, sarah, not baseball =)

4 07 2010

Thank you, Jen – my editor extraordinaire! (My mistake just goes to show how much I love sports and this musical, hehe.)

4 07 2010
Jen Fingal

=) I just love when jerry orbach sang it on the tony awards…. and cuz i played basketball for a loooong time. Love you!

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