By Michelle F. Solomon
Ambitious is the word for the Levis JCC production of the musical Promises, Promises. Sometimes the commitment by everyone involved to make the show work helps it stay aloft, and, other times, it isn’t enough to make this funny, yet dated, piece rise to any occasion.
Based on the 1960 film Billy Wilder classic The Apartment, Neil Simon wrote the book to the musical, composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David penned the catchy tunes, many of which are mainstays on adult contemporary radio station..
The story is cute enough. Nice guy, but sad sack Chuck “CC” Baxter works at a New York insurance company and wants to move up the executive ladder. He finds a way when he lends out his apartment to higher ups who he feels can help him climb higher. They need his West Side flat for only a few hours to have extra marital affairs.
In 2019, this 1962 musical can elicit a few “ewws.” In the age of #metoo, the show is a bit tasteless with the men carrying on; women being easily coerced to meet in dark corners, while the lecherous bosses cheat on their wives.
But with that aside, the players immerse themselves in the time period and, difficult as it is, the behavior, although a challenge for today’s audiences to accept, can be attributed to a time when secretaries could get a little pat on the behind and no harm done. Ewww.
The two leads, Mark Hernandez as CC, and Laura Titus as Fran Kubelik with their endearing vulnerability make the show likeable. Hernandez has great comic timing especially with his asides to the audience, and has the audience in the palm of his hand in many genuine moments as he pursues the executive dining room hostess, Fran. Titus doesn’t skimp on the emotion. She’s given some of the show’s most important songs, mostly because they are the one’s from the hit parade, and added in for the 2010 revival – “I Say A Little Prayer” and “A House Is Not A Home.” She sings them with a heart-wrenching honesty, and she has a wonderful, lyrical voice.
Alan Nash and Holly Budney’s co-direction and Danielle Jolie’s choreography wisely doesn’t put the cast through paces they might not be able to handle. Instead, they work with who and what they have. Rather than trying to have the four randy company men do difficult choreography, they keep the regular guys intact. One of the cutest bits is when the four dance with coat racks and, dressed in basketball shirts, toss b-balls back and forth. These guys are supposed to be your typical office workers, not Fosse experts. Kudos that the directing team didn’t try to make them into dancers. Dan Levin, Dino Cirrilo, Chase Stante and Ryan Crout are the four louses. They more than please the crowd with their locker room-esque song banter “Where Can You Take A Girl?,” an ode to their perplexing problem of finding a place to have their illicit dalliances.
The same goes for the “girls” (Christi Cianciotto, Sara Perry, Melanie Hochman, Molly Jade Vogel, and Leslie Zivin Kandel) each of whom also have small character roles. They shimmy just fine in the 1960s shakes that the non-taxing, but cute choreography calls for.
Sara Perry steals scenes aplenty in the beginning of the second act as the drunken barfly, Marge, who consoles Baxter’s broken heart. Not as effective is Michael Levy as the slithering Sheldrake, whose promises, promises to Fran aren’t kept. Levy never really relaxes into the character, although he has fun in his duet with Hernandez in “Our Little Secret.”
Jerry Weinberg as Baxter’s neighbor, Dr. Dreyfus, stumbled over a few lines on the night we were there, but when he was able to get a hold of his character, he got the laughs. Gustavo Garcia makes a brief appearance as Fran’s “going to knock your block off” brother, Karl.
The Chicken Coop Theatre, which presents shows at Levis JCC Sandler Center, isn’t afraid to take on monumental works and this musical is one of them. They like to give their audiences diverse programming and this musical does that. It’s a tall order, and maybe too tall, but it’s enjoyable, with recognizable songs and a cast and crew that promises to try hard.
Promises, Promises runs through March 9 inside Beifield Auditorium at Levis JCC Sandler Center, 21050 95th Avenue South, Boca Raton. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3 and Thursday, March 7. Tickets $25, $30, $40. Running time, two hours and 45 minutes not including one 15 intermission. (561) 558-2520, www.levisjcc.org/theater.