PROMISES, PROMISES

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    April 1, 2010
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (26 Apr 2010)

    One note – one note – one note – one note – one note too many. In this pale production there is more than one note too many. With all that talent on the stage, this is a colossal shame.

    It is however, a great time to revive that old custom known as Second-Acting, because there is one scene in the second act that it worth the trip.

    This is the story of a schlump who can’t get anywhere in business or in life. C.C. (Chuck) Baxter (Sean Hayes) has vague dreams and only one solid goal. He wants a date with Fran Kubelik (Kristin Chenoweth). We are talking 1962 in New York. The workforce was men in suits and mostly single women in skirts. The combination is volatile because while business is being conducted, the only thing that is on anyone’s mind in the truest sense of the word is sex. Men want it and women are willing to let them have it. Much of it is on the QT because the men are married. What a surprise.

    Baxter is a single guy with a one-bedroom apartment on West 67th Street that becomes a commodity in the male female traffic. Initially he gives out his key to help a co-worker who has a gal on his hands who is ill and “needs to lie down”. Word of the apartment key travels fast and soon Baxter is spending most nights cooling his heels while his apartment is being occupied for an hour or so.

    In return Baxter climbs the corporate ladder directly into the crosshairs of the CEO, J. D. Sheldrake (Tony Goldwyn) who is looking for exclusive rights on a weekly pied-à-terre for his own tryst. Baxter agrees to the deal, ditches his other “clients”, and gets the key to the Executive washroom as well as the Dining Room where Miss Kubelik works. The very same J. D. Sheldrake has promoted Kubelik from the cafeteria to the Dining Room because she is the woman he will be bringing to Baxter’s apartment. Baxter is ignorant of this for a while, but when the news is delivered, he is devastated to the point of drink and debauchery.

    Add an attempted suicide by Miss Kubelik mixed with a gallant rescue by Baxter, and all ends well.

    Are you asleep yet? Oh goodie, because I wanted to tell you about the only scene in this production that crackles. As Baxter drinks to the discovery of Sheldrake and Kubelik’s affair, he meets Marge MacDougall (Katie Finneran) who just happens to be all alone in the same bar on this Christmas Eve, not looking for anything other than company, and who is NOT, I repeat, NOT a pickup candidate, all of which she tells Baxter as she climbs onto his lap and down his throat.

    MARGE
    I don’t recall saying I was lonely. Have I indicated to you in any way whatever that I was lonely? Indeed not. So don’t be getting any fancy ideas in that rather attractive head of yours.

    CHUCK
    So you find me attractive, eh, Marge?

    MARGE
    You catch everything, don’t you? ... I don’t mean to imply attractive in any sexual way. Nor do I wish to imply that you are unattractive in a sexual way ... What I do want to imply is that I’m not thinking in a sexual way at all. Not to imply that I’ve never thought in a sexual way. But I am, technically speaking, still in a state of mourning. So can we just drop the subject of sex, Mr. Fast-on-your-feet?

    Wow! Suddenly you remember that the writer on this show was Neil Simon. Well – the writer for this scene anyway. Hayes and Finneran are a brilliant comic team and the writing lets them take the edge of the envelope and feed it to one another. It is a textbook perfect in every detail.

    The rest of the show isn’t. The songs seem like added details that interfere with the story line rather than furthering it, and so many of them were made famous by Dionne Warwick that it is difficult to hear them sung without hearing Warwick’s voice in the background. As to the book – it’s flat. The get-up-and go of this story that was in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment done got up and gone. Hayes gives it everything he has, but it is not enough. Chenoweth’s pipes are willing but the spirit appears to be wishing it were somewhere else. There is no heat in the affair with Sheldrake so the stakes of the story are lowered from the get go. No stakes = no story worth telling.

    All in all this is an evening that leaves you wondering why anyone ever got the idea to remake a Billy Wilder film in the first place. The Apartment was never broken and needed no fixing.

    But that Second Act idea – now that is something for you all to consider. Show up around an hour after the curtain and you should have no problem.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "The white-hot charms this musical is said to have once possessed are left sleeping."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Stylish and handsome, but only occasionally memorable."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "A candy-flavored ride that more than delivers on its title."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "After an uneven and at times tiresome two and a half hours, you'll leave Promises unfulfilled."
    Elysa Gardner for USA Today

    "Problems, like promises, abound."
    John Simon for Bloomberg

    "Unfortunately, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth aren’t suited to their roles."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Charmless revival."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Proves to be too much of a (mostly) good thing."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "An agreeable if not altogether transporting revival"
    Michael Kuchwara for Associated Press

    "A generally winning evening that restores a much needed dose of musical comedy to Broadway."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    "Tamps down the hilarity of a formerly well-made show."
    Steven Suskin for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - USA Today - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Associated Press - Hollywood Reporter - Variety