By Jeff Walsh
"Promises, Promises" seems to have everything going for it. Recently out Sean Hayes (known for his amazing turn as Jack McFarland on Will & Grace) stars with Kristin Chenoweth (from Wicked and Glee fame) in a revival of a show written by Neil Simon, with music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David, based on the amazing movie "The Apartment," written by Billy Wilder, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, and it seems like there's so much going for it, it couldn't miss.
But then, it does.
It's like a lot of good things that never congeal into a great thing. I like Hayes and Chenoweth so much that it takes a while to get over the enjoyment of seeing them perform to realize you don't necessarily want to see them perform this show. Hayes brings out the bubbly charm that made Jack the highlight of Will & Grace, but a lot of strange fourth-wall stuff and one-liners never seem to get us invested in his story here (and no, I didn't have any problem accepting him playing straight).
The basic story, for the uninitiated, is that Chuck (Hayes) is working his way up the corporate ladder at the Consolidated Life insurance company in the early 60s. Several of the married executives at the company start using Chuck's apartment for their extramarital affairs, while promising they'll put in a good word for him to get promoted in return. Chuck is attracted to Fran (Chenoweth), and hopes he'll end up with the promotion and the girl. Various complications ensue.
Like I said earlier, I liked a lot of things about this production. Hayes is charming, and carries his first Broadway outing well. His singing voice, dancing, and acting are all fine, but you never know exactly what you're supposed to be rooting for. Chenoweth obviously has the chops for Broadway, but you never quite buy into her character's journey, either. So, even during these great Bacharach/David tunes, you love seeing these actors sing these familiar songs like "I Say A Little Prayer" and "A House Is Not A Home." Even the sets, choreography and 60s art deco vibe are fun. But the moments quickly fizzle.
The sizzle, however, is Katie Finneran. She won the Tony for this role, and she is such an amazing breath of life that she devours every scene she is in as Marge, with whom Chuck has an aborted tryst. This seems like a role that might be flat on paper, but shows how an actor can infuse the tiniest roles with their own magic. She is onstage for all of 10 minutes, and is the main thing you remember about the show afterward. You leave wanting to see whatever Finneran does next, no matter what it is.
I believe Broadway musicals are like sex and pizza, and even when they could be better, they're still pretty damned good. I don't regret seeing Promises, Promises, I just expected so much more from the amazing pedigree that combined to create it.