Forget the Fourth of July. Summer doesn’t kick off on Broadway until it infiltrates Bryant Park. The annual Broadway in Bryant Park concert series kicked off yesterday, featuring the casts of Nunsense, Promises, Promises, Stomp, and In the Heights.
While most casts go casual for their performances, the ladies of Nunsense donned their character’s habits in the humid, high-80-degree weather. While the silly sisters twirled around onstage, I wondered how many spectators sitting in the park’s classic green chairs thought they were watching songs from the upcoming Sister Act musical.
When it was time for the cast members of Promises, Promises to take the stage, I felt foolish actually thinking its stars Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth would be among them. In a musical where few numbers are not sung by the two male and female leads, I figured for sure they would be up for the task of the lunchtime concert. Instead, Sarah Jane Everman (who was on when I saw the show) and Peter Benson filled in for the stars. (And my Kristin Chenoweth Curse is still maintained—I have never seen her perform live when I’ve had the chance.)
Video: “I Say A Little Prayer”
This revival of Promises, Promises is being force-fed to potential audiences as “Mad Men The Musical.” It’s not, so let’s just get that out of the way. Regardless of being set in the 1960s, it does not embody the darkness that Mad Men does, even when one of its main characters attempts suicide. Instead of trying to appear to be something it’s not, Promises should revel in what it is—a charming musical.
This production has been widely panned by the critics. It’s not the high point of the Broadway season, but I found myself wrapped up in the earnestness of the musical. If you’re someone who identifies with the nice-guys-finish-last school of thought, and rally for that good guy who never seems to catch a break, you should find yourself captivated, as I was, by Sean Hayes. Playing Chuck Baxter, Hayes is an office underling eager to climb the corporate ladder. But he’s the type that people walk all over, so he let’s his lecherous bosses use his apartment for their trysts, in hopes that his loyalty will manifest into a promotion. Meanwhile, the downtrodden Chuck fancies the company cafeteria cutie Fran Kubelik (normally played by Kristin Chenoweth, but at my performance, understudied by Sarah Jane Everman). As you can imagine, things become really sticky for Chuck when he discovers Fran is “the other woman” to his top boss.
It’s Hayes’ show, as he appeals to the audience, constantly addressing us, and we throw our support behind him. Instead of making Chuck a twerp, Hayes turns him into a truly likeable guy, smiling through all his misfortunes, recognizing the ridiculous humor of his bad luck. But it’s not his pursuit of the corporate high life that we’re rooting for; it’s his potential relationship with Fran, the girl of his dreams. It’s important for Hayes to convey that he’s more than just an unfortunate chump, but that that romance and desire lives in him. For me, Hayes’ highlighting moment is the ridiculously sweet song “She Likes Basketball,” in which he realizes that his hopes of romancing Fran aren’t so far flung, that they actually share common ground. Hayes makes you remember what it was like to be a kid, reveling in every hopeful notion that you and your crush were destined to be together. Read more