We may have to make our Show Rating system even more complicated and bewildering that it already is.
For how are we supposed to give a single rating to a show that was a 2 or a 3 at the interval and a 5 15 minutes into the second act?
This is Promises, Promises at The Broadway Theatre, the Burt Bacharach musical with lyrics by Hal David, a book by Neil Simon. But the classy provenance does not end there for it is based on Billy Wilder‘s classic film, The Apartment.
That’s a good start to proceedings. But there’s more: add Sean Hayes (Jack from Will & Grace), Kristin Chenoweth (alcoholic April Rhodes in Glee) and put Chicago-the-movie Donmar Streetcar director Rob Ashford in charge of it all and it’s looking very promising.
But wait! Get scenic designer Scott Pask (Hair, Behanding) to construct some gorgeous sixties chic à la Mad Men and his twin brother Bruce Pask to work wonders with the color (sic) palette for the costumes and you’ve got something that simply could not fail except, except…Goodness. Promises, Promises resists all this top notch creative input to remain obstinately hum-drum for the entire first act. It isn’t helped that pop gods Bacharach & David haven’t really made much of a concession to the conventions of musical comedy in terms of hummability. The tunes are sixties pop and feature typically eccentric Bacharachian cocktails of time signatures which doesn’t make them particularly accessible to people such as the Whingers who are more at home with your basic 4/4 (We even found Mr Sondheim’s 3/4 score for A Little Night Music a tad daring for our tastes).
Only two original songs from PP were hits – “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and the title song. Sadly, it also features the cringe-inducing “Turkey Lurkey Time“.
To make the score a bit more palatable this production has rather clumsily dropped “A House Is Not A Home” and “I Say A Little Prayer” into the proceedings. The latter seems an unlikely sentiment for the suicidally unhappy Miss Kubelik to be voicing and the former is simply irrelevant.
There’s a permanent air of everyone seeeming a bit lost. Miss Chenoweth resembles a Barbie doll and looks small. The set and the choreography are dwarfed by the huge Broadway Theatre stage. Sean Hayes doesn’t really convince as the heterosexual love-lorn CC Baxter but one is grateful that he is there because his clowning and his comic delivery – even his unexpected fourth wall banter with the audience – are the saving graces for the whole of Act 1.
At the interval the Whingers were feeling rather disconsolate as they stood on the sidewalk (Sorry. Pavement. See how naturalised we have become?) shooting the breeze with Steve On Broadway and reflecting on how ready the Whingers are to part with $125 for a pig in a poke on The Broadway.
But then… But then… Then came Act 2, the first 15-20 minutes of which the Whingers consider to be possibly the funniest sequence they have ever seen in a theatre.
It’s the scene in which Baxter drowns his sorrows in a singles bar where he picks up barfly Marge MacDougall, played by Katie Finneran. We had never heard of Finneran but she is now one of our favourite comic actresses of all time. We were wheezing, breathless with laughter at the pair’s clumsily executed mating ritual. Phil confessed to nearly peeing in his newly acquired underpants and we will be very surprised if Finneran does not stagger away with a Tony award for her troubles.
We were so nicely warmed up (and fortunately not due to Phil’s near leakage) for the rest of the second act that it breezed by and we were completely delighted by Chenoweth’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” sung almost entirely against her own apparent acoustic guitar-playing which was dangerously interrupted, but not ruined, by Hayes’ comic flourishes.
The Whingers would happily sit through the whole thing again just for the hilariously drunken bar scene despite being art imitating the Whingers’ own lives on this particular trip.
Ovationage: 99.5% The Whingers were able to stay seated due to their front row mezzanine seats.
Hayes, Tony Goldwyn who plays Baxter’s boss Sheldrake (and is the son and grandson of Sam Goldwyn Jr and Sam Goldwyn respectively) and Chenoweth all received applause on their entrances, the latter being awarded added whoops.
The staff at the Broadway Theatre were extraordinarily friendly. What’s all that about?
Rating for Act One
Rating for Act Two