Promises, Promises

New York City, 1960. Promises, Promises opens with a bright overture that instantly transports us back to a Manhattan on the brink of the swinging ‘60s. The stage – all sharp geometric angles and flashing bright lights – is flooded with primary colours, mini-dress clad women and suited-and-booted men. As Cressida Carré’s choreography establishes the era’s sensibilities and dodgy sexual politics, we get our first introduction to our hero: CC Baxter (Gabriel Vick).

Worth a watch thanks to a handful of standout performances and its witty clever evocation of the 1960s.

Vick’s Baxter is a likable everyman brimming with nervous energy and prone to humorous self-analysis. His narration forms the show’s meta-backbone: “I wish I was sitting out there with you,” he muses directly to the audience. “Sometimes I dream up conversations,” he admits – and sure enough, director Bronagh Lagan treats the audience to Baxter’s imagined conversations with his office crush Fran (the wonderful Daisy Maywood), before humorously contrasting them with the reality.

Fran thinks Baxter is sweet, but she is distracted by a long-term affair with Baxter’s boss, slimy Sheldrake (Paul Robinson) who promises to leave his wife and children but never will. Events come to a head when Baxter starts lending his firm’s senior executives the key to his one-bed apartment.

This flat, conveniently located close to the office, is deemed perfect for extra-marital dalliances. Baxter is far from enthralled by the situation, but hopes this arrangement will allow him to climb the ladder to executive status. In true romantic-comedy tradition, obstacles get in his way, and when Baxter discovers that Fran is Sheldrake’s lover, his morals and his ambitions are tested.

Based on the iconic 1960 movie The Apartment, Promises, Promises follows in the footsteps of the rom-coms of that era: funny, but with an acerbic streak. The score by famed composer Burt Bacharach is inconsistent, but upbeat; aided by emotional stalwarts such as A House Is Not Home and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.

It is telling that these two stand-out numbers are performed by Maywood’s Fran. Through her vulnerable performance, wide-eyed Maywood makes Fran the show’s star. As the story unfurls, Maywood subtly peels off Fran’s layers and the audience gradually learns more about the heroine’s damaged interior.

Maywood and Vick have a sweet, genuine chemistry and it becomes not hard to root for them. Other standouts include Alex Young in a scene-stealing cameo as a Marge, Baxter’s tipsy pick up in a statement coat (“It’s owl,” she tells Baxter). Meanwhile John Guerrasio makes Dr Dreyfuss, Baxter’s GP neighbour, a rounded and likable character, despite limited stage-time.

It all adds up to a fun night at the welcoming Southwark Theatre, but Promises, Promises never quite hits the musical heights the audience might hope for. With a lengthy three hour running time, the storytelling is never as tight or as engaging as you might desire. The show remains worth a watch, however, thanks to a handful of standout performances and its witty clever evocation of the 1960s.

Reviews by Francesca Street

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The Blurb

Burt Bacharach’s incredible music and Hal David’s brilliant lyrics come together with a book by legendary playwright Neil Simon in Promises, Promises – the hit Broadway musical based on the Billy Wilder film The Apartment.

Chuck Baxter is junior executive at a New York insurance company, where his mid-town residence makes him popular with the executives bosses – who promise him promotion in order to “entertain” at his apartment. A morally tricky dilemma gets worse for Chuck when he realises his own secret crush, Fran Kubelik, has been invited over to his place for a rendezvous by Chuck’s Manager, JD Sheldrake.

This Tony Award Nominated, Grammy Award Winning musical is a triumph of 1960s sexual work-place politics, with a quick witted script and unforgettable songs including Knowing When To Leave, Promises, Promises and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.

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