Southwark Playhouse, London – until 18 February 2017
Promises, Promises at the Southwark Playhouse is a delightful splash of Burt Bacharach, in a musical set in 1960s New York and which hasn’t played in London for nigh on fifty years.
The show’s pedigree is top notch, based on Billy Wilder’s (he of Sunset Boulevard fame) Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Apartment, translated thence into a musical theatre book via the satirical wizardry of Neil Simon.
Chuck Baxter is a humble accounts clerk in a huge Manhattan insurance office, young and single and who lives in a modest apartment in the city. When Baxter’s married manager asks if he can borrow the apartment for an extra-marital liaison with his mistress Baxter agrees – word spreads amongst the managers who all then ask for the apartment’s use, with the news ultimately reaching Sheldrake, the department head, who too wants to use Baxter’s flat. There’s a complicated love that develops between Baxter and Fran, a waitress in the company’s Executive Dining Room and for risk of spoiling, that’s all that can be said about the plot.
The strength of this show however lies not only in Bacharach and David’s eternally hummable tunes, but as much in Simon’s razor sharp wit. The comedy is a wry New York shtick and Lagan has polished her cast into a subtle, perfectly timed delivery.
Gabriel Vick plays Baxter and he carries the show magnificently. For those that remember the movie, he captures that beautifully bemused essence of Jack Lemmon – finely principled and ultimately nobody’s fool. Vick is also wonderfully voiced and when he picks up his guitar to sing I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, it’s a pleasant reminder that this timelessly classic song, along with the show’s other great Bacharach treats, was born out of the production itself, a refreshing contrast to the modern trend of juke-box shows created long after songs have become hits. Indeed, Promises, Promises is a far more entertaining gig than the recent Close To You, a juke box show framed around the Bacharach catalogue
Opposite Vick is Daisy Maywood’s Fran. Maywood captures Fran’s feisty and sometimes exploited vulnerability perfectly – with more than a hint of the movie’s Shirley MacLaine in Maywood’s stance and vocally, she’s wonderful too, making fine work of A House Is Not A Home.
The casting throughout is spot on. Paul Robinson’s Sheldrake is as chiselled in his looks as his morals are despicable, the quartet of middle managers are a delight and John Guerrasio’s Doctor, who lives in the flat next door, masters Simon’s comically caustic New York nuance. Perhaps the most stunning supporting work comes from the ever excellent Alex Young who opens the second half hilariously as the drunken Marge, stumbling and fumbling towards a doomed romantic tumble with Baxter.
Gabriel Vick and Alex YoungThe set design is imaginative but flawed (sit on the far left or right and some moments will be invisible) and likewise Joe Louis Robinson’s 7 piece band, who put in a fine shift throughout the evening, need to fine tune a couple of early numbers, though note that these are very modest criticisms.
Promises Promises is a warm-hearted delight on a cold winter’s night. This bittersweet story performed by a fabulous company, makes for another jewel in London’s theatre crown.
Runs until 18th FebruaryPhoto credit: Claire Bilyard