A Heartfelt “Promises, Promises” Keeps its Pledge of Fine Humor and Song
International Women’s Day was just one day before Southampton’s Center Stage’s production of “Promises, Promises” opened last week. It was a fitting moment to sit back in your chair at the Southampton Cultural Center and muse over how women have always found ways to stand up for ourselves, while being throughly entertained by performers enthralled with a great Burt Bacharach score and a laugh-out-loud funny Neil Simon script.
This 1960s musical, based on the 1960 Billy Wilder film “The Apartment” about a young Manhattan middle manager who loans out his apartment to higher-ups in his insurance agency for their extramarital affairs, in exchange for a promotion, just sings out on the Cultural Center stage under the direction of Michael Disher.
Returning from their successful lead roles in the company’s 2016 production of “South Pacific,” stars Darren Ottati and Shannon DuPuis as Chuck Baxter and Fran Kubelik have the kind of chemistry and vocal chops necessary for a production like this to shine.
Mr. Ottati as Chuck comes off as a sweetheart of a chap, with a glowing demeanor and an open heart, whose decision to let his superiors use his apartment comes off more as an aw-shucks kind of acquiescence than a Machiavellian maneuver.
Ms. DuPuis as Fran, a shy corporate cafeteria worker who acquiesces to an affair with her boss, also keeps with her a faith in a world where love and what’s right mean more than the corporate ladder, and, as she falls in love with Chuck, her performances of classic songs like “A House is Not a Home” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (with Mr. Otatti) are straight to the heart and true.
I can’t say enough good things about the drive and energy that the brassy pit orchestra, lead by Musical Director Amanda Jones (and her fine chops at the piano) brings to this production. I was seated just as close to the pit as one could be, and despite the energy emanating from there, the levels of the wireless miking of the cast made for a well-balanced sound throughout most of the program, which is no small feat.
The dance numbers throughout are inventive and make good use of the sparse props — rolling office chairs and white boxes that serve as desks and tables. A double door set for the apartment scenes could use a bit of stabilization — a house is not a home without a door that doesn’t fall over — but I’m sure the crew is mulling over how to perfect this minor detail for next weekend.
Standouts among this fine cast include Edna Winston as Marge MacDougall, a drunken lonely heart with a choker made of owl feathers who, in a maddening series of hilarious contradictory statements about her sexual intensions, follows Chuck Baxter home after he spends the night drinking off the realization that his boss, J.D. Sheldrake, is having an affair with Fran in his apartment.
Jack Seabury, whom you might have seen as the lead in the North Fork Community Theatre’s recent production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” is a scheming con artist of a husband and boss as J.D. Sheldrake. He’s got the role of a hustler down to a T.
I was also enamored with Lon Shomer’s performance as Chuck’s neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss, who grudgingly puts up with the shenanigans next door, delivering wisecracks with a tinge of sweetness that had me cracking up on my seat, and ultimately delivering medical care with a steady hand that saves the day.
Josephine Wallace, as J.D. Sheldrake’s secretary Miss Olsen, is a left field hero who catches this entire scheme and throws it in for a quick triple play that puts everything right in the world. As should be by the end of a Broadway musical.
I’d had advance warning that the chorus of secretaries charged with executing two hours of non-stop strenuous harmonies were finding this material challenging, but their fervor for making this play shine made the musicality of Sunday’s matinée a cohesive and even-keeled performance well worthy of the standing ovation it received.
“Promises, Promises” runs Thursdays through Sundays through March 26. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $28.00 for adults and $15.00 for students. Overnight specials and Dinner/Theatre packages are also available. Call 631.287.4377 for reservations or book online at www.scc-arts.org.