New York City Theater
It’s enough to turn anyone socialist. The intermittently entertaining revival of “Promises, “Promises” with its philandering execs give capitalism a bad name. At least the show has the irresistibly engaging Sean Hayes as the office shnook and Katie Finernan as the most hilarious floozy to come down the pike since Mae West.
Counterparts of the manipulative men and compliant women from the smashing TV show “Mad Men” sing and dance their way through “Promises, Promises.” Okay, these devourers in suits are not cheating on stockholders, just their own wives. Desperate to spend some quality time with their secretaries and other company women, they con lowly clerk Chuck Baxter into loaning them his bachelor pad for an hour or two.
So what if they overstay and he has to sleep in the street or a Spanish synagogue? So what if one of the women being bedded happens to be the gal Chuck has set his cap for? After all, his reward will be a rise in position – won’t it?
This would be border smarmy if not for the character of Baxter, portrayed by Sean Hayes as a cuddly puppy, awkward, ingratiating, funny, shy and kind. Altogether deserving his Tony nomination, Hayes sings, dances, gets entangled in an Eames chair and engenders such sympathy in asides to the audience that they actually ‘ahhh’ when his basketball date doesn’t show. It’s an impressive Broadway debut.
Burt Bacharach’s distinctive music (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “Where Can You Take a Girl?”) and Hal David’s lyrics retain freshness. Neil Simon’s book has been pushed back from late to early 1980s (the “Mad Men” era), giving the show a sheen isolated from bothersome events like Vietnam and drugs.
Somehow, however, the show doesn’t click. As directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, there’s a frenzy about it, which is not the same as energy. Despite Hayes, you don’t feel invested in what’s happening and certainly not in whether Baxter will snag his true love, Fran Kubelik, whom Kristin Chenoweth imbues with so much melancholy that she becomes downright dour.
Yet, we have Katie Finneran, another Tony nominee, who doesn’t appear until the top of Act Two. Tough, demented, on the make in her furry owl coat, offbeat and downright adorable, she injects the flagging show with enough energy to light California. It’s the comic performance of the season and, when she and Hayes sing “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing,” all is suddenly right with the world.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 6, 2010