Promises Promises – Review

It’s been 20 years since Burt Bacharach’s musical, Promises Promises, based on the 1960s Neil Simon comedy, The Apartment, last appeared in London and its success depends on how you like your nostalgia.

It opened this week at the Southwark Playhouse. Fans of Mad Men will adore the vintage fashions and rampant sexism, musical theatre aficionados can wallow in some classic tunes, and the rest can lap up a charismatic performance by its leading man Gabriel Vick.

It’s easy to forget Jack Jemmon’s turn as aspiring accountant CC Baxter who climbs the promotion ladder by letting randy executives use his flat to work on a few extra marital figures but it is harder to wipe out memories of his co-star, Shirley MacLaine.

Here, considerably shorter, is Daisy Maywood, sporting the MacLaine ’60s elfin haircut but channeling the vulnerability and resolve of the Hollywood star.

Promises Promises is set in the sizzling early 1960s when women in the workplace were nothing more than playthings for their male bosses.

Amidst this nest of love rats sits the lovable, gormless – and single – Chuck Baxter who can’t get a date for love nor money.

When one of the execs at Consolididated Life asks to borrow his flat for 45 minutes of overtime, Chuck naively agrees. Before long the randy white collar workers are queuing up to book time out with their bits on the side.

Alright. It’s not politically or socially acceptable these days but if it’s okay for Jon Hamm’s Don Draper then I’m happy to go along with the premise.

As it turns out, the biggest two-timing womaniser in the firm is the boss, Sheldrake (Paul Robinson) who is working his way through the building’s women, floor by floor.

He’s currently in a precarious relationship with Maywood’s Fran Kubelik but the innocent Chuck is also smitten and we get to see his gauche attempts at wooing as well as being party to his out-of-control innermost desires.

The multi-award winning Promises Promises is my sort of musical, even if it is ridiculously quaint and outdated.

There are some standout performances. Vick and Maywood make a sensational couple whose duets, giving a stunning rendition of I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, and it is impossible not to fall for Chuck’s disarming personality.

But John Guerrasio gives a star turn playing one of Neil Simon’s great supporting characters, the wise-cracking GP, Dr Dreyfuss, who lives in the neighbouring apartment to Chuck.

And Alex Young shows what a great comic actor she is during a post interval scene with Chuck when the drunken pair hit it off in a bar.

The show isn’t without its faults. At three hours it is way too long and could easily have 40 minutes cut from it. Some scenes just don’t progress the story and feel like unnecessary padding.

The clunky set looks awfully cheap and there’s no reason I can think of for director Bronagh Lagan to pump eye-watering noxious smoke into the auditorium during the opening number. It made me feel quite ill.

And Cressida CarrĂ©’s lovely ’60s style choreography doesn’t have the room to really fly in the small performance space. The dancers are almost tripping over each other.

Promises Promises is terribly dated but it is saved by some terrific turns from its principal actors. Running at Southwark Playhouse until February 18.

Review Rating
  • Promises Promises
4

Summary

Accountant Chuck tries to figure out love in Burt Bacharach’s nostalgic musical, Promises Promises, that’s based on Neil Simon’s The Apartment.

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