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Promises, Promises

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PROMISES, PROMISES Broadway revival shifts corporate world of company men chasing working girls around the office to 1962, a la Mad Men (pictured, l. to…
Joan Marcus

Promises, Promises

type:
Stage
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
04/25/10
performer:
Kristin Chenoweth, Sean Hayes
director:
Rob Ashford
author:
Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Neil Simon

We gave it a B+

As befits a musical comedy set in the ’60s corporate world of company men and the working girls they chase around the office, the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises follows a business plan to satisfy several constituencies: fans of the astringent 1960 movie The Apartment, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, on which the musical is based; of the original 1968 Broadway production, with its bright book by Neil Simon and the swingin’ score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; of headliners Sean Hayes (a.k.a. Jack in Will & Grace) and Kristin Chenoweth (a.k.a. tiny stage, screen, and TV sparkplug); and of Mad Men, the culture-shaping AMC series that has made the antics of company men chasing girls around an office look cool again.

That’s a lot of promises to keep — not all of which can be fulfilled in this great-looking if compartmentalized production, a show at once visually inspired and tonally challenged. Part of the difficulty stems from the decision to move the action from 1968 to 1962. On the one hand, without the current Mad Men craze for early-’60s drinking, smoking, and sexism, it’s unlikely that this mid-century time capsule musical would have been revived at all. (Just to be sure we get the point, female dancers are shaped and draped in homage to the lush bod of Christina Hendricks’ Mad character, Joan Holloway, in vintage inspired costumes by Bruce Pask, while Scott Pask’s sleek sets gleam with a touch of Mad Men‘s Sterling Cooper aesthetic.) On the other hand, 1962 was so very not a Burt Bacharach kind of era — extracurricular office sex meant something very different then than it did in more liberated 1968.

Still, as directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, the show forges ahead through the sheer force of design elegance, dance-floor stamina, performance energy, and the quick thinking of Hayes. The actor is nimble, funny, likable, and much more asexually wholesome than one might expect given that his character has agreed to allow his philandering bosses to use his midtown apartment for trysts in hopes of securing a promotion. While his performance style flips the calendar ahead to 1990s sitcoms that break the fourth wall, Hayes buoys the show with his generosity. He also compensates for Chenoweth’s discomfort in her role (and unflattering wig!) as his love interest, the seemingly innocent coworker who turns out to be yet another company superior’s plaything. And when, in a second-act show-stopper, Hayes is paired with agile and hilarious Katie Finneran as a lonely lady at a bar, the two break through barriers of time and setting to produce timeless audience laughs of pleasure. B+

(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)