The 2010 revival of Promises, Promises promotes itself as a musical comedy, which is exactly what it is—a fun night at the theatre. Written by legendary playwright Neil Simon, it is no surprise that this reads more as a play with music than a musical. This certainly is not a negative thing, simply a credit to how strong the plot is. The Burt Bacharach & Hal David tunes, while they certainly do not show off vocal virtuosity, are American classics and widely recognized.
Sean Hayes makes his Broadway debut in the role of Chuck Baxter and it is about time. Hayes seems so comfortable on stage, making him perfect for this role where he breaks the fourth wall and frequently addresses the audience. He is so generous and personable that we feel that we know him by the end of the performance. His singing is less than spectacular, but we are willing to forgive that because he is so skilled as an actor. We sympathize with Chuck as he seeks to climb the corporate ladder and even get behind his less than moral strategy as he shares his bachelor pad with high-ranking executives for their extramarital affairs. We even pity Chuck when he cannot seem to get the attention of Fran, the office cafeteria hostess that he secretly loves. Always the good guy, Chuck eventually realizes that he would rather not have a job at all than work for a slimy, cheating boss and quits. The fact that he gets Fran in the end softens the blow.
Kristin Chenoweth plays the role of Fran Kubelik and the moment she steps on stage, she receives an incredible round of applause—her reputation precedes her. There is nobody that sings like Kristin Chenoweth and she knocks every number out of the park, even with the trachea infection she was experiencing during this specific show. She has fabulous acting chops too, but I just struggled to believe her in this role. My love for Kristin Chenoweth is very deep, she is my idol, we all know that. But there is just something to be said for the perfect marriage of a performer and a role and it simply did not happen in this case. She is so gifted and charismatic and it is truly a shame that she was not given a role worthy of her talent.
Katie Finneran in the role of Marge MacDougall is a firecracker, sending the show into the stratosphere for the two brief scenes that she is on stage. Finneran takes a huge risk in her portrayal of Marge as she tiptoes the fine line between unexpected hilarity and just plain over the top. She stays on the safe side because her character is so grounded and realistic. With her crazy antics, Marge seduces Chuck and is able to take his mind off of Fran. Finneran truly invests in this role and the audience believes everything that comes out of her mouth. From her dark red wig to her low, brassy voice, Marge looks nothing like Katie and this is truly a transformation.
I wanted terribly to fall in love with this production, I really did. After all it has all the right ingredients, praised source material, a sitcom actor, a phenomenal supporting cast, and not to mention my idol, but even with all of these assets, there is something missing. A running theme in all of my favorite musicals is a personal connection to a character or the story, but that simply did not happen for me in this show. I guess it was my assumption that with Chenoweth in the role, I would have an instant connection to Fran, when in actuality we have nothing in common. Even though nothing in the show pulled at my heartstrings, Promises, Promises is nevertheless enjoyable and entertaining and after all, is that not the reason we attend the theatre?m