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Thoroughly Entertaining “Promises, Promises” – Broadway, Review April 25, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Uncategorized.
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Chalk another one up for Director/Choreographer Rob Ashford as he leads a talented and very funny cast of actors/singers/dancers in the Broadway revival of “Promises, Promises” which first appeared on Broadway in 1968. The Book written by Neil Simon, Music by Burt Bacharach, and Lyrics by Hal David instantly transport you to the 60’s; as does the set design, costume and wig work, and lighting.

Sean Hayes carries the comedic role of Chuck Baxter with stage presence, comedic timing practiced on years of episodes of Will and Grace, and charm. His singing voice is fine for the part, although he struggles a touch with higher notes and some of the endings of songs have been shortened so he doesn’t have to hold the notes as long as Jerry Orbach was able to in the original production.

Kristin Chenoweth is in fine vocal form in the role of Fran Kubelik, and this production gives her two additional songs added to the score (“I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House is Not a Home”). Many in the audience were clearly there to see Kristin, and she gets cheers and hoots after every song…the same annoying response she got while in Wicked where younger audience members mistook Broadway songs for American Idol numbers.

Tony Goldwyn turns in a nice performance as Sheldrake, and surprised many in the audience with his clear singing voice. He oozes charisma in every scene, and it’s easy to see what Fran would see in a lout like him. It’s harder to see what Fran would see in Baxter, but that’s where the story goes.

The cast is uniformly terrific, especially in the many many dance sequences throughout the show. Rob has added creative dance touches throughout, including a dance number during the Overture that not only sets the tone, but clearly defines the male/female take on office sexual politics in the early 60’s. They had me at the Overture.

Katie Finneran stops the show as alcoholic one-night-stand Marge. Her comic timing is to die for, and her dance sequence with Hayes earns well-deserved laughter through creative use of dance pratfalls and her own chemistry with Sean on stage. Terrific featured actress work here — look for a Tony nomination.

The set design is colorful and stunning. At times Scott Pask fills the stage with sparse furniture pieces to represent location; at other times he creates complete environments that capture New York City perfectly. Bruce Pask has built beautiful costumes for everyone, and they all look good in motion.

There isn’t a weak link in the cast or design. Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrastions sound “fab” as played by the large orchestra, which retains it’s backup girl singers in the pit.

Promises, Promises is a problematic piece to be sure. Not all of the music is up to Bacharach and Davis’s best work — but some of it is terrific. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” remains the signature tune, and got an extended ovation. It was wise to include both interpolated standards to round out the tunefulness of the show, even if they force Fran into a somewhat conflicted role throughout.

Some of the script has been tweaked; a few numbers slightly modified or moved; some awkward scripting reworked. Generous use of ad-libs and clever staging by Rob Ashford tie everything together in a way that makes the show zip and zoom throughout it’s 2 hour 40 minute length.

I had a tremendous time. Its great to see the types of things I grew up with being restaged and re-imagined. And it’s awesome to hear this almost-forgotten score again! Sean Hayes, Kristin Chenoweth, and Tony Goldwyn are true stars, and it shows throughout the production.

Highly recommended.

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