Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Promises, Promises"

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"Promises, Promises"

A Minority Report by Will Stackman

Animus Ensemble's ambitious production of the Bachrach/David (1968)musical "Promises. Promises", with a book by Neil Simon based of Billy Wilder's 1960 movie, The Apartment" only ran two weekends in the new Roberts Studio at the BCA. It's likely that some of the unevenness was worked out by the end of this too short run. What couldn't be worked out was Simon's somewhat ungainly script, which tried to retain too much of the movie's linear development. The hero's direct address to the audience, well-handled by Jeff Mahoney as C.C."Chuck" Baxter, should probably have been extended to other characters in the show. This might have changed the singular focus of the story, which would make the sordid plot a but less objectionable, or at least more interesting. Perhaps shortening Act One and strengthening Act Two, perhaps hearing more from the distaff side, might have helped.

Not that the talented cast assembled by director John Ambrosino didn't try. Aimee Doherty as the heroine, Fran Kubelik, was winsome enough, but we only get the "facts" of her life, not enough inner turmoil, which makes her spur of the moment suicide attempt simply melodramatic. As mentioned by others, the quartet of executives, played by Harold Withee, Michael P. Hammond, Jim Jordan, and Michael Kreutz and the head of personnel, J.D.Sheldrake, played by Jerry Bisantz, actually have more substance to their roles. It also helps that these gentleman have years of varied experience. Withee appeared at the Publick this summer, and for Wheelock and the Theatre Coop earlier in the season. Hammond is a seasoned director of musicals from the South Shore. Jim Jordan is a highly-praised regular performer at Turtle Lane who's also been seen on a variety of other stages. He also has the task of pursuing Brent Reno playing a younger employee while staying in "the closet." Michael Kreutz teaches singing professionally, has toured the country in musicals, appearing locally opposite Judy Kuhn in Overture's "The Baker's Wife." Bisantz was last season in Speakeasy's "Company," one of his many roles in past years and has just started the Image Theatre out in Lowell. The part of Sheldrake also has a strong dramatic line--once it gets going--which Bisantz played very well.

Musically, "Promises, Promises" is just too predictable, with too many arrangements featuring Bachrach's trademark sound. The two well-known songs, "I'm Never Gonna Fall in Love Again" and the title, don't have the bite intended. As hard as Doherty or Mahoney try. David's ironic lyrics are swallowed up by the memory of pop standards. Choreographer Josie Bray is limited by the incessant disco beat, but does manage to make most of the numbers look like people actually enjoying dancing rather than show dance displays. And she gets some musical comedy moments out of Chuck and Dr. Dreyfuss's attempt to cheer up the heroine in "A Pretty Girl Like You", helped by the efforts of another old hand, Michael Carey from Peabody High School's Performing Arts Department. One could wish that Jennifer Condon's scene-stealing comic turn as Marge, who picks up Chuck in a bar at the start of Act II, had a musical number to make full use of her talents. It would also be nice if Miss Olsen, Sheldrake's secretary and former mistress, played by the show's only African-American, Jackie Davis, got at least one musical moment. The show was originally presented by Hal Prince, but probably need a more detail oriented play-doctor, even in 1969.

Animus may have chosen to present this piece at this time of year because of its seasonal content, but "Turkey Lurkey Time" and its associated moments at the end of the first act will never become a holiday standard. The "Christmas Day" anthem in the second is somewhat banal and serves as backup for the action. "Promises, Promises", even with its conventional happy ending,and almost totally shorn of irony, just isn't really a "feel-good" show. Without Wilder's continental touch, the sexist joke(s) behind the plot is too dated with too simplistic a view of office sexual politics. Despite having Jordan and Reno paired off, there's no female executive pursuing a guy from the mailroom, which would probably be too farfetched for 1966.

This period musical really isn't of much interest to high school or college musical theatre programs, and community theatres have such a variety of choices that it remains low on the list. Though Animus' technical support - set by Peter Watson from Thayer Academy; accurate costumes by Courtney Dickson and Meghan O'Gorman; sound music direction (despite some balance difficulties) by Brian D. Wagner-- was totally appropriate, this show doesn't have the kind of challenges that really excite current musical theatre producers. The storehouse is full; this effort will probably keep gathering dust. However "Promises, Promises" was an interesting addition to this season, but musical theatre fans who missed it will probably have to wait a while for another chance to see it. Perhaps Jonathan Colby, who was in the cast, will play a bit of its music on "Standing Room Only." Animus has two more musical projects this season. Ambrosino and Bray are presenting a workshop of their coming-of-age project based on Lewis Carroll's Alice at the Green St. Studios on March 17 & 18. Then they're finishing the season with "gender-bending" approach to "Once Upon a Mattress" in the BCA Plaza Theatre June 9 - 24 (3 weekends this time). Their efforts will probably be more interesting that the Disney-version just telecast.

DT> "Promises, Promises" (9 - 18 December)

Boston Center for The Arts. Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

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