The Arlington Players presents Promises, Promises, the 1968 Tony Award-winning Best Musical based on Billy Wilder’s 1960’s screenplay and Academy Award-winning Best Picture The Apartment, with music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, and book by Neil Simon. With a great score filled with ‘Top Ten’ hits and a funny book – the expectations are high, but here they were not quite met. What remains is an overall production that is buoyed by a talented supporting cast, giving real meaning to the phrase, “there are no small parts, only small actors.”
Upon walking into the theater, you are greeted with the music of a live orchestra who are, cleverly enough, seated beneath the stage, with conductor Mathew Martz’s baton waving enthusiastically from beneath an opening. The set, designed by David Means, shows an impressive Manhattan view as seen from the inside of an office high-rise. This piece is exceptional, but large, bulky pieces of other settings, such as the inside of an apartment or a restaurant, are wheeled on and offstage while a character addresses the audience, drowning him out with loud squeals that are almost impossible to muffle when moving cumbersome set pieces, with a highly distracting effect. Lighting Designer Dan Covey utilizes the Manhattan view, tweaking the lighting in the background to switch from day-to-night, and Sound Designer Drew Moberly uses sound effects such as storms and a popping cork to help enhance the plot. The musical is set in 1968, and with costumes by Grant Kevin Lane being largely business attire, the timeline proves a bit hard to perceive – that is, until a Christmas party scene, where brightly-patterned dresses, chunky earrings, and slight beehive hairdos hit the mark.
Friendly, young bachelor Chuck Baxter (Patrick M. Doneghy) introduces himself to the audience, and continues to stand aside at various points throughout the show to speak to them directly. Baxter, a lowly office worker, has executive ambitions shown in the song “Half as Big as Life,” and finds an opportunity for glowing recommendations and connections from higher-ups when he is asked for the use of his apartment, so that they may have a secure location to play out their affairs. Mr. Kirkeby (Michael Toth), Mr. Dobitch (Steve Dasbach), Mr. Vanderholf (Sidney Davis), and Mr. Eichelberger (Richard Dew) round out the quartet of unfaithful husbands, whose song “Where Can You Take a Girl?” proves to be a high-point in the show.
While his apartment key switches hands on a rotating schedule, Baxter laments to the audience about Fran Kubelik (Lauren Palmer Kiesling), a waitress who holds his affections (too bad she barely knows his name). Their relationship becomes more solid with the duet, “You’ll Think of Someone,” just as personnel manager J.D. Sheldrake (David Boleyn) takes interest in Baxter’s apartment scheme, promising him a substantial promotion in exchange for its use. However, when Baxter discovers just who Sheldrake is entertaining in his apartment on Christmas Eve, matters of the heart take hold, and threaten his bourgeoning career. The Christmas party scene is the highlight of the show, with the fun, catchy “Turkey Lurkey Time” and upbeat choreography by Doug Yeuell, who utilizes popular 60’s dance moves.
At the opening night performance I attended, I wish that Director John Moran and Music Director Jason Sherlock could have inspired stronger performances from the lead performers.They exhibited tepid performances and underwhelming vocals that were occasionally drowned out by the orchestra as in the famous, long- awaited duet, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” sung by Doneghy and Kiesling, and there was an awkward moment when lines were forgotten during the song “Promises, Promises,” sung by Doneghy.
Several standout performances come from the supporting cast. Karen Batra is only onstage for a short time as the riotous Margie MacDougall, though she received (and deserved) the most enthusiastic applause. Chip Crews is great as the sarcastic, quippy Dr. Dreyfuss, Baxter’s neighbor who is annoyed by the constant comings and goings next door, and Richard Dew received many laughs for his anxiety-ridden Mr. Eichelberger.
The Arlington Players’ Promises, Promises is filled with lots of humor, great songs, and a wonderful supporting cast that deserves to be seen and applauded. I promise!
Running Time: 150 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Promises, Promises plays through October 20th, 2012 at Thomas Jefferson Community Center– 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. Purchase your tickets online.