Promises, Promises is the hit Broadway musical adapted from the 1960 Academy Award-winning Billy Wilder film, The Apartment, and book by Neil Simon. Drawing most of its script and narrative from the classic romantic comedy, music and lyrics were developed by the legendary pop composer Burt Bacharach and Hal David to bring the much-loved tale to life on the stage. Now, director Bronagh Lagan has dusted it off for a full-spirited revival at the Southwark Playhouse.
The story follows the plight of down-on-his-luck Chuck Baxter (Gabriel Vick), cog-in-the-work employee at Consolidated Life Insurance Company and eternal “yes” man, who faces the unusual problem of his co-workers using his New York bachelor pad for their extramarital exploits – almost every night of the week. In the hope of forwarding his career he also agrees to hand over the key to his boss, Mr Sheldrake, with unexpected consequences.
Lagan’s production captures the swinging 60s and associated sexual revolution so wonderfully depicted in the film, with the talented cast’s song numbers bringing the emotion and comedy alive: the office Christmas party with the hilarious Turkey Lurkey Time skit from the office beauties, the portly middle-aged married men wanting Chuck’s apartment for their weekly affairs comically singing Where Can You Take a Girl?, and Chuck’s disarming rendition of Dionne Warwick’s I’ll Never Love Again that cheers fellow employee Fran from her love-sick depression.
The recreation of the 60s New York office and Chuck’s bachelor apartment, which emerges from the back of the stage, are brilliantly done and superbly set off by a creative use of lighting, allowing Chuck to step out of his reality to speak directly with the audience at intervals. And a band tucked in the corner of the playhouse space give the songs and frivolities the immediacy of a live gig.
Paul Robinson portrays a smooth yet duplicitous Don Draper-esque Sheldrake and Daisy Maywood’s short-haired prettiness and demeanour capture something of Shirley Maclaine’s Ms Kubelik, with a pitch-perfect honeyed voice demonstrating her talent on songs such as A House Is Not a Home. But it’s Alex Young’s opening of the second half as the sassy Marge that unexpectedly steals the show. Providing by far the funniest moments of the performance, Young cranks up her character’s drunken, cheeky charm and nails her comic timing, helping herself and knocking back stingers, showing off her “owl fur” coat and, inebriated, coquettishly clowning around with Chuck. It’s also in latter stages of the production that Vick’s Chuck really comes into its own, channelling Jack Lemmon’s energy and warmth as he starts to let loose with his new bowler on the back of his head, teams up with a brilliantly played Dr Dreyfuss (John Guerrasio) as they set about resuscitating Fran, and finally pushes back on the people who exploit him.
A few hiccups – and not just Fran’s – along the way mean the show’s not quite as slick as it could be but not to the extent that it distracts from what is overall a heartwarming, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining musical: London can thank Lagan for bringing a little bit of the sizzling 60s into the city to cheer us out of our January blues.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 18th January 2017.
Photos: Claire Bilyard
Promises, Promises is at Southwark Playhouse from 13th January until 18th February, for further information or to book visit here.