Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Broadway Theater Review: Promises, Promises

The Minor Roles are the Real Stars Here
By Lauren Yarger
Much hype, not all of it positive, preceded the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises. Was the book by Neil Simon too dated? Was star Kristin Chenoweth miscast as Fran Kubelik? Would adding some popular Burt Bachrach (who wrote the musical with lyrics by Hal David) tunes help beef up her role? Would TV star Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace” fame be able to hold his own in his Broadway debut as lead man Chuck Baxter?

The answer to all of the above is yes, but in the midst of all the angst, Katie Finneran, who is on stage for a total of about 15 minutes makes all those questions irrelevant. She stops the show as Marge MacDougall, a drunken woman Baxter picks up in a bar, and her performance alone makes a trip to Promises, Promises worthwhile (and I’ll make my own promise: Finneran will win the Tony for Featured Actress in a Musical).

Also giving a terrific performance in another minor role is Dick Latessa as Dr. Dreyfuss, the neighbor who thinks Baxter, who lends his apartment out to business associates for their trysts, is the one making all that noise next door. The veteran actor’s comedic timing is impeccable and he and Finneran really are the stars of the show.

That isn’t to say that Hayes and Chenoweth aren’t fun. They are. Hayes does well as the beleaguered ad exec who is devastated to learn that his love interest, Kubelik, is the woman for whom his boss, J.D. Sheldrake (Tony Goldwyn) has reserved Baxter’s apartment.

Powerhouse Chenoweth obviously is miscast as the gullible, helpless Kubelik, but makes a decent go of it any way, looking great in Bruce Pask’s smart 1960’s inspired costumes and sounding nice, if a little country twangy, backed by a full orchestra directed by Phil Reno. Excellent sound design by Brian Ronan let’s us hear the singers over the music (not always a given these days). The songs added for her: “I Say a Little Prayer” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” are some of the best in an otherwise unmemorable score, but unfortunately add to the already too-long run time of more than two and half hours. Cutting a couple of other songs might have been a good idea.

Rob Ashford directs and also choreographs a lot of busy, big arm flapping numbers on Scott Pask’s large paneled set. A number where the couples take turns meeting at the apartment is tastefully and cleverly staged and a freeze-frame technique is used effectively to stop action throughout as Baxter speaks directly to the audience.

Is it the best revival ever? No, but it’s certainly not the worst, especially given the rather dated, not really funny premise of a bunch of guys cheating on their wives with girls from the office. The musical was based on the 1960 Billy Wilder film “The Apartment” starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray, back in the days before sexual harassment suits and women’s lib.

Finneran makes sitting through even this worn plot fun, though, and LaTessa’s wise counsel, humor and advice as Dr. Dreyfuss offer a balance to all the chaos.

Promises, Promises runs at the Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway, NYC. Discounted tickets are available for friends of Masterwork Productions by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Sexual dialogue
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Suicide attempt

1 comment:

Pat said...

PROMISES PROMISES is an audience pleaser with people coming back multitude times. We are breaking records at the Broadway Theater which seats over 1700 people .


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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