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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
PROMISES, PROMISES
at the Broadway

PROMISES BADLY KEPT
By JOANNE KAUFMAN

  Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth/ Ph: Joan Marcus

When the musical Promises, Promises, starring Jerry Orbach and Jill O’Hara, opened on Broadway in 1968, it fairly bristled with energy, sexual, terpsichorean and otherwise.
 
Neil Simon supplied the witty libretto (based on Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s movie The Apartment) in which a morally limited insurance company functionary (Jerry Orbach), eager for career advancement, lends out his digs to philandering executives. Burt Bacharach and Hal David, then the reigning kings of all that was easy-listening, furnished the pop score. Yes, there was something of a one-note about it; yes, it was teeth-grindingly repetitive; but it also had a fresh, distinctly modern sound. The terrifically inventive choreography came courtesy of Michael Bennett and reached its apotheosis with “Turkey Lurkey Time,” a seismic number set at a holiday office party featuring a gorgeously gyrating Donna McKechnie.
 
That was then.
 
Sad to say, the revival, which stars Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, is all promise, no fulfillment. It’s overlong (2:45), over-staged and underwhelming. Rob Ashford, the director and choreographer, has moved the time period back six years to 1962, and he hedges his bets in many other respects as well.
 
Moments that cry out for a performer to be alone on stage are rarely permitted. The charms of Sean Hayes’ cautiously ebullient “Basketball” are obliterated by an accompanying chorus number full of empty-energy leap-frogging. (The choreography, heavy on moves borrowed from period dances like the Frug and the Monkey, is never more than blandly competent.) When cad man J.D. Sheldrake (Tony Goldwyn) sings the character-defining “Wanting Things,” for no good reason half a dozen women, dressed in red, move languorously in the background. The scene recalls nothing so much as a segment from Dean Martin and the Golddiggers. 
 
Further, Ashford went shopping in the Bacharach-David catalog and interpolated two songs. Never mind that the score worked perfectly well just the way it was. Never mind that he got a high five from the composers. The additions – “I Say A Little Prayer” and “A House Is Not A Home” – make no sense dramatically. “You’ll Never Get to Heaven if You Break My Heart” maybe. “I Say A Little Prayer”? What was Ashford thinking?
 
The trouble goes right to the top of the ticket, the default perch of Kristin Chenoweth. She’s too old to play Fran and too indomitable. Not for a moment do you believe her as the prey of a married man. And when she plants her little feet on the stage of the Broadway Theatre and belts out “While combing my hair now/and wondering what dress to wear now…” forget Promises, Promises; it’s “Kristin Chenoweth sings the Burt Bacharach/Hal David songbook.” While no barn-burner, Hayes, best known as the flamboyantly gay Jack on the hit series Will and Grace, brings a nice understated charm to his role of a hapless enabler. His voice isn’t big but it gets the job done.
 
But he’s no match – how could anyone be? – for Katie Finneran as a boozy and very available barfly. Her body as pliable as a pipe cleaner, her dialogue delivery as dependable as FedEx, Finneran gives Promises, Promises what it has previously lacked: a pulse. It may be petty larceny but she steals the show.
 
 


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