Evan Pappas was invaluable as Chuck Baxter in “Promises, Promises” at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House in 1993, and he’s equally invaluable in this new production of the 1968 Broadway musical, which includes the revisions for a 1997 New York City Center Encores! run. These include a refreshment of its already first-rate book by Neil Simon and a new Burt Bacharach/Hal David duet. Baxter isn’t the only excellent cast member, either: Add Paul Schoeffler, Beth Glover, Brenda Braxton, Gordon Stanley and Kelli Rabke to the list. Unfortunately, because this production was mounted to play only two dates (it’s now looking for additional engagements), its low budget minimizes its visual appeal. Almost all of its men’s costumes, for instance, look like ill-fitting, thrift-shop rejects.
Nevertheless, the ’60s artifact comes to life at the Bushnell, primarily because of Simon’s book (this is a rare musical that boasts a book stronger than its score), the hard-working cast led unflinchingly by Pappas and Tony Stevens’ brisk direction and frugging choreography.
Pappas repeats his skillful tour-de-force performance as an office nobody who allows the executives at the insurance company at which he works to use his apartment for extramarital affairs. As Fran Kubelik, the young woman Pappas’ Chuck adores from afar, Rabke is warmly attractive, and she clearly relishes the score’s one big hit song, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” Her performance only lacks the quirky individuality Fran needs — now she’s too much the nice girl next door.
Schoeffler is fine as Sheldrake, the executive who has been romancing Fran. He brings an affecting, soaring voice to his emotional “Wanting Things.” Glover adds a new, statuesque dimension to the second act as pulchritudinous Marge McDougall, the tipsy blonde Chuck gets to take home. Brenda Braxton, as Sheldrake’s secretary and former mistress, makes good use of the score’s new duet, “You’ve Got It All Wrong,” in which she’s joined by Rabke. And Gordon Stanley, as Dr. Dreyfuss, has great fun with his antic song-and-dance duet with Pappas, “A Young Pretty Girl Like You.”
The rest of the cast members hurl themselves back to the swinging ’60s with no holds barred, including the quartet of businessmen (albeit literally ill-suited) rolling around on office dining-room chairs in “Where Can You Take a Girl,” and the trio of go-go dancers who perform atop boxes to the overture. The big dance number “Turkey Lurkey Time” brings act one to a roaring close with its leggy choreography. Everyone works hard to fill a large stage that’s almost bare of scenery.
John Farrell’s set is a basic construction on which a few changes are rung by a minimum of props. At center stage is a screened-in section housing the lively seven-piece band brightly conducted by Lawrence Goldberg. Lighting works well and sound is clear and not overpowering.
Production played Wilmington, Del.’s Playhouse Theater Feb. 23-March 4 and was scheduled for a March 6-11 Bushnell run. Budgeted so that ticket prices could be comparatively low, and with much to recommend it, it may well find a home in a number of venues around the country that could use a small-scale show to help balance the cost of far more expensive touring productions.