Review – Promises, Promises, Southwark Playhouse

Thursday 19 January 2017

cxo6_jfxcae2livWhen The Whingers saw this on the Broadway (with Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth) in 2010 they did an unprecedented thing (well, they may have done it other times but they can’t be bothered to check); awarded separate ratings for the first and second acts. If that’s not an argument against interval departures we don’t know what is. Not that it will stop them of course.

Promises, Promises has more promises in its creatives, than even its title. Music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics Hal David, book Neil Simon and it’s based on one of Phil’s favourite films; the 1960 Billy Wilder film The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.

For those who haven’t seen the film (if not, why not?) it concerns C C (Chuck) Baxter a lowly clerk for a big corporation who, in the hope that he’ll receive a promotion, lends out his apartment key to executives so they can conduct secret dalliances. He also has an unreciprocated interest in Miss Kubelik – who works as a waitress in the company’s canteen (elevator operator in the film) – but is unaware that she is currently being boned by his boss, J.D. Sheldrake (Paul Robinson). Every Thursday. And, of course, in Baxter’s apartment to boot.

Director Bronagh Lagan does what she can with Act 1 but it’s not her fault that it’s a bit of a plod, the numbers aren’t Bacharach and David’s finest hour, apart from “A House is Not a Home” which isn’t from the original show anyway and is performed in an office, which doesn’t really make sense, and due to the thrust staging we’re often left watching the back of the performer’s head. Something which happens throughout this show.

You may wonder exactly what they were on when they came up with “Turkey Lurkey Time” which is performed unapologetically by the ensemble including some more generously proportioned male cast members. Like turkeys, appropriately stuffed (into festive sweaters), which seems even worse coming so soon after Christmas. The numbers don’t advance the plot and are, at times, drowned by an overly-brassy orchestra. It’s left to the agreeably dark storyline, the immense charms of Gabriel Vick‘s fourth wall-breaking Baxter and gamine Shirley MacLaine lookalike, Daisy Maywood as a touching and convincingly vulnerable Fran Kubelik to carry us through to our interval respite.

Déjà vu arrived for us in Act 2 when, as on Broadway, things picked up so massively it all becomes worthwhile. It opens in a bar with a hilarious drunken seduction scene where Alex Young is not only the vampish barfly Marge, but also the highlight of the evening. She provides about 20 minutes of laugh out loud bliss. Later we must endure the mild embarrassment of “A Young Pretty Girl Like You” performed by Baxter and Dr. Dreyfuss (John Guerrasio) before being rewarded by the delightful duet and best number in the show “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” which, should you need reminding, comes with the sublime rhyming of “pneumonia” and “he’ll never phone ya”.

Bigger cuts should have been made to the punishing 3 hour running time. “I Say A Little Prayer”, which was also not from the original show, has been dropped though is still listed in the programme’s song list. We assume that the performing rights don’t allow it, but we can think of a couple of other turkeys lurking that we really wouldn’t have missed.

In a rare moment of insight we correctly predicted that Katie Finneran who played Marge when we saw the show in New York would collect a Tony Award (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical). Strangely enough Marian Mercer who created the role in the original 1968 production also nabbed the same accolade.








3 Responses to “Review – Promises, Promises, Southwark Playhouse”

  1. Sal Says:

    A fun review but one far too optimistic about Neil Simon at least, given that the all-knowing WEW have experienced disappointment with all his overrated and dated mechanical concoctions, not least The Sunshine Boys:
    “What happened to Neil Simon? Is it us? We used to find him funny but struggled to wring any entertainment value out of his Prisoner of Second Avenue and here that struggle became almost mortal combat.”
    It may be that Neil Simon’s career is based on people forgetting how flimsy and unsatisfying his other plays are before going to see yet another – like the ever-diminishing films of Woody Allen or musicals by Lord Credit Crunch. Being rewarded with great riches for being amusing eventually kills all talent, which is one reason why the unpaid Whingers have yet to pall … Long live amateur drolls…

  2. surreymusic Says:

    At the second preview (Saturday matinee) we got “Say a little prayer’ and a cracking performance it was too by Maywood. Yes, at three hours, it was too long but I really enjoyed it, mainly because of the two excellent leads.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Daisy Maywood deserves an extra number in Act 1 not that the show needed to be any longer. Agree both leads are cracking.

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