Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Review Promises, Promises


Promises, Promises
Book by Neil Simon
Based on the Screenplay by Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond
Music by Burt Bacharach and Hal David

How To Succeed In Business
http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

It may be a sacrilege but TLT and her own little musical automobile wondered how many in the audience watching Promises, Promises, based on s classic 1960 movie,  were working it out ... "If I had an apartment in New York or even central London for $86.50 a month ..."

But maybe that's the point. The movie on which 1968 musical Promises, Promises is based is Billy Wilder's and IA Diamond's The Apartment. It's the lodging in the title of the film, not the emotion. Promises, Promises felt to us an unusual thing, an angry black comedy, a play, yearning and aching not to be a musical.

Accounts' man in Consolidated Life,  CC Baxter, aka Chuck, rents a snug little apartment in New York but has found his own prudential way, he hopes, to consolidate his own promotion up the slippery corporate ladder.

He lends his key on a rota to various middle aged executives for their extra-marital affairs. Even if this means roaming the streets or taking corporate hospitality tickets for sports' games while he's excluded from what should be his own private domain.

It's only when he falls, hook, line and sinker, for gamine Fran, a waitress in the executive dining room, discovers her entanglement with the boss who monopolizes his pad and the threat to her life that the blinkers of corporate advancement fall off.    

This revival follows a 2010 New York production riding on the Mad Men wave and transfering the action back to 1962. It also added two of Burt Bacharach's and Hal David's best known pop music hits, Say A Little Prayer and A House Is Not A Home, although the former, probably wisely, is cut from director Bronagh Lagan's production.

Billy Wilder, according to that tome on everyone's virtual bookshelf Wikipedia, was apparently partly inspired by Brit movie Brief Encounter where the adulterous couple, a doctor and a housewife, use an apartment belonging to a friend of the medic. But we think Wilder also looked at the way Coward changed the story from his original play Still Life where the romantic male lead in the film on stage is, to be coy ;), a prize louse.

Maybe Wilder and Diamond had an even more savage first draft of The Apartment. Or maybe book writer of the musical Neil Simon was trying to get under the skin of the movie, adding his own political and sexual subtext.

However, especially in the first act, there's a lot of talking for a musical including CC Baxter (the men are great initials' men) speaking directly to the audience making for an uneven tone. It's less moral wavering than a boastful kind of co-conspiracy, even though he's the underdog. 

So problematically, the light touch in the movie becomes heavy handed and, especially in our times, dated on stage. The bevy of attractive oven-ready (it's Christmas and there's a Turkey Lurkey Time song wih all the sexy trimmings) young women secretaries and hostesses parade before overweight, cigar chomping executives with apparently no irony. Unlike, say, Frank Loesser's earlier corporate ladder musical.

Still, Gabriel Vick as Chuck Baxter and Daisy Maywood as Fran Kubelik wisely embrace the shades of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine with a precise delicacy in looks, word and song despite a book which feels as if it should have been thinned down.

The songs are clever enough but don't feel particularly memorable or dynamic apart from A House Is Not A Home and I'll Never Fall In Love Again, which was in the original 1968 production. However, these two songs, with their pop production values, also stand out awkwardly from the rest  of the piece.

Alex Young brings welcome relief from the dice loaded in favour of men as a feisty, funny widow picking up Chuck in a bar with A Fact Can Be A Beautiful Thing. John Guerrasio as the cooperative doctor and neighbour also brings a worldly-wise (almost TV sitcom-style) expediency into the show.

Cressida Carré's choreography and the dancing are slick and we were quite taken by Simon Wells's almost Dr Caligari-like simple but effective set with Ben M Rogers' projections. At the same time, it's an amber light for a show with a book which, strangely, feels as if it's being scuppered by being a musical.

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