We all have our guilty pleasures. Spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar, a playlist of boy bands from the nineties on our iPods, and now the latest addition to the list: bright, colorful, but not so accurate or interesting Broadway musicals. The flawed revival of Promises, Promises , starring Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes, falls into the last category. But, despite the problems with this production, it is still undoubtedly entertaining and enjoyable.
Adapted from the 1960 movie The Apartment, which starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, the musical, with a book by Neil Simon and a score by Burt Bacharach, is undoubtedly dated. It’s sexist and to some it might even be offensive. The interest in its revival can most likely be credited to the popularity of the television show Mad Men , which has made the womanizing Don Draper a household name.
Sean Hayes stars as C. C. Baxter, a nebbish young executive at an insurance agency who, in hopes of advancing the corporate ladder, loans his apartment to higher-ups in his office for their extramarital affairs. Apparently, you can’t just take a nice girl to a hotel room in Manhattan. (Money doesn’t seem to be a concern of these men, but given that the apartment rents for less than $90 a month, that’s understandable). Baxter is infatuated with the lovely cafeteria worker Fran Kublick, played by Kristin Chenoweth, but he later learns she is involved with his (married) boss, J. D. Sheldrake (played blandly by Tony Goldwyn).
The plot isn’t very strong, granted, but it could be elevated if it had the right cast to breathe life into the characters. Unfortunately, this production doesn’t. Hayes, in his Broadway debut, appears very comfortable onstage and is pleasant enough as Baxter, but he looks too old for the part. He possesses a pleasant singing voice, and he is especially likable when, rapturous upon learning that Fran is a fan of his favorite sport, he sings, “She Likes Basketball.” Hayes benefits greatly from Baxter’s technique of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly, which he does to explain his behavior or sheepishly apologize for his fantasies of Fran professing her love for him.
As Fran, Chenoweth is sadly miscast. A veteran of the stage and screen, she exudes confidence and charisma onstage and cannot help but take charge every scene she is in. Unfortunately, those characteristics are the exact opposite of her character. She can warble away sadly all she wants, but it is impossible to believe that this Fran would attempt suicide because her boyfriend won’t leave his wife for her. Her character is not aided by the addition of two more Bacharach songs in the script. Fran would never sing “I Say a Little Prayer” for Sheldrake, who she knows is married, and while she performs “A House is Not a Home” beautifully, it makes no sense, as Fran and Sheldrake have never lived together.
Chenoweth and Hayes share an easy chemistry onstage, and you can tell they genuinely like each other. Their quiet duet “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” is a genuinely sweet scene, and Hayes’ adoring smile elicited more than a few “Awws” from audience members.
While he is sweet with Chenoweth, Hayes is dynamite with the scene-stealing Katie Finneran, appearing as the bar fly Marge MacDougal, with whom he seeks drunken comfort on Christmas Eve. Decked out in vibrant polka dots, red curls flopping, Finneran is absolutely electric with Hayes. Twisting on top of the bar and stumbling into each other’s arms, the two breathe life and vitality into the show, even if the breath does smell like liquor.
That vibrancy is also depicted in Rob Ashford’s choreography, which is energetic and colorful, partly thanks to Bruce Pask’s costumes and Scott Pask’s set, both of which are especially enjoyable during the large company number “Turkey Lurkey Time.” The show is also peppered with physical gags, which Hayes is especially good with. Unfortunately, it’s hard to feel invested in or sympathy for men singing about how they have no means with which to cheat on their wives. Call me old-fashioned – but, wait, isn’t this show supposed to be old-fashioned, too?