Excuse me, but…Sarah Jane Everman? Not Kristin Chenoweth? That's right, the understudy was filling in for the star at the performance I saw. Chenoweth didn't receive the greatest reviews for this production, and now, having seen the show, I can understand why: the role of Fran Kubelik simply isn't the kind of dazzling one that best plays to her "LOOK-AT-ME!!!" strengths. But this thoroughly enjoyable revival doesn't need her.
The sweet-voiced and comically gifted Everman filled in quite ably. But really the show belongs to its main character, Chuck, played with elastic vivacity by the brilliant Sean Hayes, who though best known for TV's Will and Grace turns out to have boundless stage energy and a very nice singing voice to boot. And a big chunk of the second act is blown up to bursting by the hilarious Katie Finneran as Marge MacDougall, the inebriated sexpot Chuck meets in a bar after things have really spiraled down for him.
With Burt Bacharach's spirited, lightly eccentric music, lyrics by Hal David, and Neil Simon's smart book, the show is based on the 1960 film The Apartment. Chuck, a hapless but vaguely ambitious accountant, climbs the corporate ladder by allowing the married, middle-aged executives at his company to use his bachelor pad for illicit trysts. He's good-hearted but severely flawed, which is what gives the show much of its bite. The production manages to be both supremely cynical and humorously high-stepping, with a happy ending that only slightly relieves the story's sour attitude towards love and especially marriage.
The show was first staged over 40 years ago, and director-choreographer Rob Ashford has left many anachronisms intact: "Good thing I have 'hospitalization,'" says Chuck's neighbor, the old GP Dr. Dreyfuss (played with easy charm by veteran Dick Latessa). But it resonates almost as much with the recent, dystopian Adding Machine as with the Go-Go Era's glittery sheen. Without any great depth of emotion, the story mostly keeps us at arm's length, but the production compensates with witty dialogue, engaging music, fabulous choreography, and magnificent production values. I haven't seen such impressive moving sets since my last visit to the Metropolitan Opera: a huge, Christmas-decorated spiral staircase appears seemingly out of nowhere; a fully stocked bar, an elevator, Chuck's cozy apartment, various offices, all rotate smoothly in and out. Hayes' funny business with a piece of too-modern-for-its-own-good furniture and the opening number's office-chair dance extravaganza are just a couple of the show's physical highlights.
Because the part of Fran is relatively small, a couple of numbers were added for the revival to give Chenoweth more spotlight time, including the Bacharach-David hit "I Say a Little Prayer." Though sweetly staged, it feels shoehorned in. "A House is Not a Home" works better, reflecting the psychic homelessness that afflicts both Chuck and Fran. (Fans of TV's Glee heard Chenoweth dueting the song with Matthew Morrison a couple of weeks ago.)
But what you'll probably exit singing is "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," which was part of the original score. Prior to seeing the show I could have easily done without ever hearing that song again, it was so overplayed during my childhood. But it's a fitting, tuneful sum-up of this big, rather acidic show. With or without Kristin Chenoweth, Promises, Promises at the Broadway Theatre is a winner.
Originally published as “Theater Review (NYC): Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes and Sarah Jane Everman” on Blogcritics.