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Review of Promises, Promises at Southwark Playhouse

Gabriel Vick as Chuck & Daisy Maywood as Fran - Photo by Claire Bilyard
Gabriel Vick as Chuck & Daisy Maywood as Fran – Photo by Claire Bilyard

Neil Simon writes the book, Hal David writes the lyrics and Burt Bacharach writes the music. Put all this together and what do you get? A Tony award-winning musical that goes by the name of Promises, Promises that has returned to London and taken up residence at the Southwark Playhouse after an absence of nearly 50 years.

Chuck Baxter (Gabriel Vick) is a junior accountant in a large insurance company. Although a lowly, often overlooked individual, Chuck has aspirations to climb the ladder to executive level. Unfortunately, his life isn’t living up to his dreams until one day, one of the executives (exec) finds out that Chuck rents a studio bachelor pad on West 67th Street, and asks to borrow it, so he can take his lady friend there for a spot of ‘afternoon delight’. Chuck, in his eagerness to ingratiate himself with the higher ups, agrees and soon news of the local bolt-hole spreads amongst the exec level and Chuck is starting to get noticed. Whilst the execs are doing the dirty, Chuck only has eyes for one lady, the lovely Fran Kubelik (Daisy Maywood), a worker in the company cafeteria. Unfortunately, and unbeknown to Chuck, Fran is the latest paramour of J.D. Sheldrake (Paul Robinson) the company’s powerful Personnel Director who is also making use of Chuck’s apartment. Chuck is an unhappy man. He rarely sees the inside of his apartment – though his neighbour Dr Dreyfuss (John Guerrasio) believes he is a complete stud with the number of ladies visiting his place – and the woman he yearns for cannot be his. Fran is unhappy, especially following a conversation with Miss Olsen (Natalie Moore-Williams), J.D.’s Secretary, at the office Christmas Party. Unless there is some major Christmas miracle in the offing, It looks like everyone is facing an unhappy holiday season.

I have to admit that I have suffered in writing a review of Promises, Promises. The problem I have had is that it is very much a musical of its time. This was a period when female staff in corporations were secretaries and basically seen as part of the perks for the execs, a situation which most of them seem to accept if not enjoy. In the corporate world, misogyny doesn’t so much flourish as is an accepted part of life. So, watching the show, I did find myself getting slightly wound up by the plot. Having said that, this is a play written and set at a certain time, and in reality, it was up to me to get off my high horse and appreciate Promises, Promises for the musical that it is.

On that score, I really have no complaints. This is musical with some amazing music in it. Aside from the well-known numbers, such as ‘A House is Not a Home’, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again and ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ which justify the ticket price themselves, there are some other wonderful tunes including ‘A Fact Can be a Beautiful Thing’ and ‘Wanting Things’. Overall then a great show from a music point of view. So too promises, promises is great from an acting standpoint with the two leads Gabriel Vick and Daisy Maywood in particular, being really fantastic in the roles of Chuck and Fran. Both individually and together, these two actors really seem to enjoy their roles and give them all they have, and I particularly loved Gabriel’s superb narration and dialogue with the audience. I also really liked Paul Robinson’s portrayal of Sheldrake, tall, arrogant, ruthless and easy to hate, J.D. was a lovely character and Paul has a real crooner’s voice that worked very well with his role. A final mention on the actors has to go to Alex Young for her wonderful performance of Marge MacDougall who opens the second act in a storm of genuine owl coat and almost steals the show.

The stage space at the Southwark Playhouse isn’t massive but Director Bronagh Lagan makes use of every inch – the thrust stage, steps into the audience and even a platform above for the band under MD Joe Louis Robinson. Simon Anthony Wells’ set – utilising video to give the illusion of more space – is well put together with the chorus moving bits and pieces of scenery on and off the stage as required. Mixed with the great costumes, there is a very authentic sixties feel to the whole production which ties everything together nicely.

Summing up then, whilst Promises, Promises was annoying from a moral standpoint, I cannot fault the production too much. At a running time of around three hours, I personally think some pruning could have been done – for example, losing ‘Turkey Lurkey Time, would not have had any detrimental effect on the story in my opinion – but on the whole it is a well-devised and executed production of a classic musical, the only one by Bacharach and David, that is definitely worth a visit – just remember to leave your twenty-first century ideas about equality outside in the bar.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Burt Bacharach’s incredible music and Hal David’s brilliant lyrics come together with a book by legendary playwright Neil Simon in Promises, Promises – the hit Broadway musical based on the Billy Wilder film The Apartment.

Chuck Baxter is junior executive at a New York insurance company, where his mid-town residence makes him popular with the executives bosses – who promise him promotion in order to “entertain” at his apartment. A morally tricky dilemma gets worse for Chuck when he realises his own secret crush, Fran Kubelik, has been invited over to his place for a rendezvous by Chuck’s Manager, JD Sheldrake.

This Tony Award Nominated, Grammy Award Winning musical is a triumph of 1960s sexual work-place politics, with a quick-witted script and unforgettable songs including Knowing When To Leave, Promises, Promises and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.

First produced for the Broadway Stage by David Merrick. The musical is presented by arrangement with Tams-Witmark Music Library.

Creative Team
Director – Bronagh Lagan
Musical Supervisor – Elliot Davis
Musical Director – Joe Louis Robinson
Choreographer – Cressida Carré
Set and Costume Designer – Simon Anthony Wells
Sound Designer – Andrew Johnson
Casting Director – Jane Deitch
Producers: Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment and Ollie Rosenblatt for Senbla

Eichelberger/Waiter – Craig Armstrong
Vanderhof/Watchman – Ralph Bogard
Kirkeby/Karl – Martin Dickinson
Dr. Dreyfuss – John Guerrasio
Sylvia/Patsy/Mrs Sheldrake/Turkey Lurkey Girls – Claire Doyle
Fran – Daisy Maywood
Miss Olsen/Vivien/Sharon/Turkey Lurkey Girls – Natalie Moore-Williams
Dobitch – Lee Ormsby
Sheldrake – Paul Robinson
Ginger/Kathy/Hostess/Turkey Lurkey Girls – Emily Squibb
Chuck Baxter – Gabriel Vick
Marge/Nurse/Barbara – Alex Young

Booking to 18th february 2017


1 thought on “Review of Promises, Promises at Southwark Playhouse”

  1. Kevin McGrath (@kevonhissoapbox)

    Surely, though, Billy Wilder’s classic film took a cynical view of the exploitation of women? Baxter knows all along that he is being a heel in facilitating Sheldrake’s casual misogyny, in exchange for a succession of easy promotions within the firm. He finds redemption, though, when he sacrifices his career as a high flyer because he can no longer stomach the way his boss treats the girl he loves. Wilder isn’t one to flag up a simple moral in his movies, but there is no doubt the audience is supposed to identify with the “innocent” Baxter and not the slimy, sexist executives that run the company.

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