Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.
It seems contradictory to call a 37-year-old musical about adultery and attempted suicide a breath of fresh air, but the Animus Ensemble’s production of Promises, Promises is exactly that. The Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Neil Simon adaptation of The Apartment is rarely produced, perhaps because its distinctive sound is as dated as its outlook on women, relationships, and the workplace.
The story still has plenty of “ick” factor. The basic scenario: a young, would-be executive named C.C. Baxter (Jeff Mahoney) discovers the real trick to succeeding in business: loaning out the key to his apartment to his superiors at work, all looking for a place to take their mistresses. Mahoney comes across with a natural likeability, milking the comic potential of his character’s nebbishy tics to help distract from the sliminess of his actions. While his singing voice is a little thin for the score, he’s a terrific dancer and able to sell most of his numbers.
Baxter’s game comes crashing down when his boss, Sheldrake (Jerry Bisantz), uses Baxter’s apartment to sleep with Baxter’s crush (Aimee Doherty). Doherty sings beautifully and captures the sadness of her character, but her role is so underwritten that she simply isn’t given enough to work with. Bisantz, on the other hand, beautifully mines all sides of his character, almost making Sheldrake sympathetic, which only means his ultimate selfishness hits that much harder.
Just about every character in the show has questionable morals, which can make it a hard show to love. Thankfully, the actors and director John Ambrosino don’t shy away from the reality of these characters. That’s not to say this is a gritty Promises. The script frequently takes us from a dark moment to a hilarious comedy bit, and Ambrosino handles the transitions expertly. The show plays out against a Day-Glo set (designed by Peter Watson), with spot-on costumes by Courtney Dickson and Meghan O’Gorman. But the production’s aesthetic embraces the reality of the characters and the piece’s setting, relishing the look and feel of the late ’60s without letting the show get campy or ironic.
The entire show surges along with the syncopated pulse of Bacharach’s trademark rhythms, embodied perfectly through the choreography of Josie Bray. Her dances channel the best of Michael Bennett without once feeling like a retread. Every frug and swim feels appropriate and character driven, but mostly exciting and fun. Luckily, Bray is given much to do, from a fully choreographed overture to the show-stopping “Turkey Lurkey Time.” Unfortunately, the orchestra (under the baton of Brian D. Wagner) can’t quite keep pace with the demanding score.
Despite a few missteps along the way, the youthful enthusiasm of the show (right down to the most enthusiastic troop of ushers I’ve ever seen – in matching track suits, no less!) carries the evening. Promises, Promisesmay not leave you with deep questions to debate over post-show drinks, but it will send you off with a smile on your face and a catchy tune stuck in your head, and frankly, I can’t think of a better present for this holiday season.
Promises, Promises, presented by the Animus Ensemble at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End, now through December 18. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm; Saturday matinee at 4:00 pm; Sunday matinee at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $38.50, with student and senior discounts available. Tickets are available at the BCA box office, throughBostonTheatreScene.com, or by calling 617-933-8600.
The Animus Ensemble’s season continues with a workshop production ofAlice, a new musical by Phoebe Sinclear and Scott Murphy, March 17 and 18 at the Green Street Studios.
Photo: Jess Dugan