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"Promises, Promises" Revival Debuts on Broadway

The hypnotic Burt Bacharach beat remains undiminished some four decades after it was unleashed in "Promises, Promises," the 1968 musical now getting an agreeable, if not altogether transporting revival on Broadway.

Bacharach's unique pop sound and Hal David's catchy lyrics form their own little time capsule celebration of the '60s, that "Mad Men" era of miniskirts, narrow ties, three-martini lunches and the latest dance craze on the "Shindig!" and "Hullabaloo" television variety shows.

Photos: Sean Hayes
Photos: Kristin Chenoweth
Photos: Tony Awards 2009
Photos: Broadway Red Carpet

For much of the time, the production, which opened Sunday, coasts amiably on the considerable appeal of its leading man, Sean Hayes, who is making an impressive Broadway debut. Hayes portrays Chuck Baxter, the insecure company man who lends out his bachelor apartment for extramarital, romantic dalliances by its corporate executives.

But a moral crisis occurs when he discovers the big boss (a suave, Frank Sinatra-sounding Tony Goldwyn) is having an affair with a woman, Fran Kubelik (Kristin Chenoweth), whom Chuck fancies, too.

Hayes, best known for playing Jack on TV's "Will & Grace," may not have the best singing voice, but he has boyish charm to spare - plus a nifty '60s haircut. And it's his ingratiating and comic, self-deprecating manner that will win you over, particularly in the character's many asides directed to the audience.

"Promises, Promises," which is based on the Oscar-winning film "The Apartment," was adapted for the stage by Neil Simon, but Simon's laugh-filled original has been tinkered with by director-choreographer Rob Ashford.

The musical always has been a tired businessman's kind of show even as it spoofs the sexism so prevalent in the day. "Promises, Promises" is mostly about its leading man. But Ashford has added two other Bacharach-David hits to the evening, "I Say a Little Prayer" and "A House is Not a Home" to beef up Chenoweth's role of that ill-used, unhappy woman.

The actress has been cast against type, and it's not always to her advantage. Chenoweth naturally exudes peppiness, a sunny quality that for much of the time has to remain hidden here under Fran's morose, other-woman persona.

Yet she and Hayes score in a quietly effective rendition of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," the best-known of the songs written specifically for the musical.

Ashford's choreography is efficient if not exactly joyous, even for the show's biggest dance number, "Turkey Lurkey Time," a frantic Christmas office party revelry. It may be unfair, but the moment is haunted by Michael Bennett's galvanizing choreography for the original production, which has found an afterlife in a grainy Tony Award video clip that has proven popular with Internet theater buffs.

"Promises, Promises" is one of those rare shows that improves after intermission. The spark is provided right at the top of the second act by the scene-stealing Katie Finneran as an inebriated woman of the loosest virtue. Simon's comic writing is at its peak here, as Chuck, also more than a bit tipsy, tries to pick her up in a bar. And Finneran simply runs away with the audience's affection.

Dick Latessa cements that affection with his ingratiating portrait of Chuck's neighbor, a doctor who listens with amazement - and admiration - at the parade of women making their way to the man's apartment. Little does he know that it is that quartet of libidinous executives having those assignations. And Brooks Ashmanskas, Ken Land, Peter Benson and Sean Martin Hingston handle their lechery with ease.

Designer Scott Pask's colorful settings look a little lost on the wide stage of the Broadway Theatre, too big a playhouse for a show as frequently intimate as "Promises, Promises." The clothes by Bruce Pask (yes, Scott's brother) accurately reflect '60s fashion, most stylishly the men's executive suits.

But it's that Bacharach-David score, augmented by superb Jonathan Tunick orchestrations, that provide the best nostalgia kick. It's a shame these guys never wrote another musical for Broadway.