Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Promises, Promises"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


music by Burt Bacharach; lyrics by Hal David
book by Neil Simon based on the screenplay
“The Apartment” by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond
directed by John Ambrosino
choreography by Josie Bray
musical direction by Brian Wagner

C. C. “Chuck” Baxter … Jeff Mahoney
J. D. Sheldrake … Jerry Bisantz
Fran Kubelik … Aimee Doherty
Dobitch … Harold Withee
Sylvia … Erin Tchoukaleff
Kirkeby … Michael P. Hammond
Ginger … Whitney Cohen
Eichelberger … Jim Jordan
Eichelberger's Date … Brent Reno
Dr. Dreyfuss … Richard Carey
Vanderhof … Michael Kreutz
Miss Kreplinski … Grace Summer
Miss Olsen … Jackie Davis
Bartender; Spectator … Brent Reno Marge MacDougal … Jennifer Condon
Karl Kubelik … Gus Kelley
Young Man … Jonathan Colby

Featured Singers:
Whitney Cohen; Grace Sumner; Erin Tchoukaleff; Lauren Possee


Melissa Caddle; Whitney Cohen; Jonathan Colby;
Jennifer Condon; Jackie Davis; Kevin Murnane; Lauren Possee;
Brent Reno; Grace Sumner, Erin Tchoukaleff


Conductor … Brian D. Wagner
Reeds … Louis Toth; Ray Taranto; Heather Katz
Trumpets … Walter Platt; Tom Stafford; Joe Casano; Mark Sanchez
Trombone … Russell Jewell
Bass … Brian Grochowski
Percussion … Don Holm; Brian O’Neill
Synthesizer … Chad Elder

Never having seen PROMISES, PROMISES, I thought it odd that it is seldom performed nowadays: this 1968 musical is based on Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning film THE APARTMENT, it had a respectable Broadway run and the Burt Bacharach-Hal David score includes two standards (the title song and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”) and a near-one (“Whoever You Are, I Love You”). Attending the Animus Ensemble’s production answered my question: the 1960 film, made in the Cold War era, is more in sync with today’s glacier-creep times; the musical is now poppy, feel-good nostalgia. The two plotlines are identical: C. C. Baxter, an Everyman working in a vast New York corporation, climbs up the ladder by loaning out his apartment as a rendezvous for his married superiors and their mistresses only to discover that Fran Kubelik, the woman he loves from afar, is one of those mistresses, being unhappily involved with J. D. Sheldrake who runs the corporation. Mr. Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote a coldly amusing Faustian screenplay; librettist Neil Simon substitutes their sour wit for his familiar sitcom coziness: thus, Baxter, a Holy Fool if ever there was one, becomes a nebbish ever whining to his audience (his Act Two chivalry comes out of nowhere), and Sheldrake whose smiling villainy slowly, slowly reveals itself is now a hard-boiled softie with his own reflective moments; Fran has been switched from elevator operator to dining room hostess but remains the rudderless soul over whom her lovers squabble. Thanks to the Messrs. Bacharach and David, PROMISES, PROMISES works best as the Swinging Sixties in a nutshell; these two men who helped define an era’s sound have now preserved it.

The Animus production introduced me to this young company with the emphasis on “young” as its ensemble delightfully prances about like ponies to Josie Bray’s go-go choreography so reminiscent of “Hullabaloo” and the like; the leads are another matter. Jeff Mahoney’s Baxter is all tics and twitches when only a few mannerisms would have done nicely --- this is Mr. Mahoney’s Big Moment and he is clearly making the most of it. Aimee Doherty continues to bloom though she is still more thorn than rose (why would her Fran suddenly reach for those sleeping pills?) and everything Jerry Bisantz does turns to baggy-pants burlesque, his Sheldrake included; in his moments with Ms. Doherty, however, Mr. Bisantz pleads a good case that mutts need love and affection, too. Jennifer Condon plays the scene-stealing Marge MacDougal as exactly that --- a scene stealer --- and is not half as funny as Jackie Davis who gets unexpected chuckles as Miss Olsen, the office bitch who later quits instead of being fired as she is in the film. But, overall, this PROMISES, PROMISES is a worthy successor to Stoneham Theatre’s recent PAL JOEY, both productions forging a path back to Golden Age performing, especially in their dance routines. It may be some time before such musicals are running smoothly once again in Boston-area theatres but in the meantime the Animus offering is another nifty start.

"Promises, Promises" (9 - 18 December)
Boston Center for The Arts. Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide