Maybe I was too hasty when I said that Promises, Promises didn't give me much to write about. Due to a recent re-listening which opened my eyes (and ears) to some dazzling songs, I have had a change of heart. So, without further ado, here's "Promises, Promises: Take Two."
To be honest, I make a lot of hasty judgments when I listen to music for the first time. If it doesn't immediately wow me, I decide there's not much to it and dismiss it from my mind. Sometimes, though, I wait a while and then give it a second chance to see if I missed something. In Promises, Promises' case, giving it a second chance proved that I had missed a LOT. About a third of the songs were real zingers. As to why, well... I'll get to that later.
Before we talk about Promises, Promises, however, we'll need to talk about what it's adapted from. Like Applause (see March posts), this show is a musical retelling of a classic film noir: Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960).
The Apartment is a complicated sort of How to Succeed in Business-tale, albeit sweeter, warmer, and funnier. A lonely office drudge named C.C. Baxter ("Chuck"in the musical) works at a national insurance corporation and lives in an apartment. In exchange for letting his managers borrow his apartment for their extramarital affairs, Baxter receives glowing recommendations from them, allowing him to climb the corporate ladder. Eventually, the director (Sheldrake) hears about it and convinces Baxter to let him use the apartment for himself so that he can continue an extramarital affair with an old fling, Fran Kubelik - who also happens to be Baxter's crush. (In the movie, she's an elevator operator; in the musical, she's a waitress at the company cafeteria.)
Upon learning that Sheldrake has been lying to her, Ms. Kubelik attempts suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills at Baxter's apartment. Baxter rescues her from death and, while he nurses her back to health, the two fall in love. Eventually, his love for Ms. Kubelik enables him to grow a backbone and walk out on his corrupt supervisors once and for all.
Now for a few words on the adaptation, Promises, Promises. My liking for the musical is kind of weird, because it's divided between the original 1968 version (starring Jerry Orbach and Jill O'Hara) and the 2010-11 revival (starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth). While I vastly prefer Orbach as Chuck Baxter, I prefer Kristin Chenoweth as Fran. (Come on, it's Galinda from Wicked!! Who wouldn't love her as Fran?!?) Hayes can't hold a candle to Orbach's performance. As for O'Hara, she sounds like she's singing through laryngitis compared to Chenoweth. The reason I love songs like "Half as Big as Life" and "Knowing When to Leave" is because Orbach and Chenoweth (respectively) make those songs.
Fortunately, no one better understands my obsession with this sort of thing than my friend DivaStar. A fellow choir member and showtunes nerd, she's one of the only people I know with whom I can have meaningful discussions about various musicals in which neither person gets bored. (It probably helps that she's acted in several musicals herself.)
Also, since DivaStar likes a lot of "brightly-colored" musicals (e.g., musicals that are loud and showy, like How to Succeed in Business, Newsies, Phantom of the Opera, etc.), discussing the bombastic Promises, Promises with her was a lot of fun. Especially the parts we agreed on. For example, I introduced this idea to her the other day:
Source: broadway.com via Ariel on Pinterest
Although she isn't as familiar with Promises, Promises as I am, we both agreed that Orbach + Chenoweth would make for a MUCH improved show overall.
But perhaps YOU should decide about Promises, Promises for yourself. Check out some of the songs I've attached in music players below, and see what you think. ("I'll Never Fall in Love Again" does involve Jill O'Hara from the original cast, but since it's the only song I think she sounds decent in, I've included it here.)
'Till next time,
P.S. Also, I was a bit hasty in judging Jerry Orbach before I heard this musical. I'll admit, I didn't like him in The Fantasticks. But now that I've experienced Promises, Promises, I think he's thrilling.