Center Stage: Taking On Office Politics with Song, Humor and Heart

The secretarial pool in Center Stage's production of "Promises, Promises."
The secretarial pool in Center Stage’s production of “Promises, Promises.”

If you’ve been missing the AMC series “Mad Men” since it ended two years ago, Southampton’s Center Stage’s new production of “Promises, Promises” may be the cure for what ails you.

The 1960s musical, based on the 1960 Billy Wilder film “The Apartment,” is a play that director Michael Disher has always enjoyed. With a script by Neil Simon and music by Burt Bacharach, the material he’s working with is a home run.

“It has a bulletproof score and a very funny script,” he said. “It’s filled with totally misogynist men, but it has a female strength that is unexpected.”

The men of "Promises, Promises."
The men of “Promises, Promises.”

“Promises, Promises” opens this Thursday, March 9 and runs through Sunday, March 26.

The show centers around the life of a lonely Manhattan office worker named Chuck Baxter, whose greatest asset is his apartment on West 67th Street, which he loans out to executives at his job for “extracurricular activities,” in exchange for the promise of a promotion.

His plan works, until he finds out the girl of his dreams, Fran Kubelik, is secretly seeing his boss — in his apartment.

Darren Ottati and Shannon DuPuis, whom Center Stage theatergoers will remember from their performances in last season’s “South Pacific,” star as Chuck Baxter and Fran Kubelik.

“His heart is in the right place. He knows he’s doing the wrong thing, and he ultimately choses his self-worth over self-promotion,” said Mr. Disher. 

“What I find so intriguing about 1960s misogynists is that, even though they had all these extramarital affairs, they never left their wives,” he said. “But the three central women in the piece are ultimately the strongest.” 

The musical is produced in Center Stage’s bare-bones style, which focuses on great period costuming and a minimalist set.

“We clearly can’t replicate skyscrapers in Manhattan and apartments, but it comes off very nicely and neatly,” he said. “With six boxes, six rolling chairs and two door units, you can create anything and everything.”

Julie Crowley, Christina Stankewicz, Darren Ottati, Josephine Marshall, and Brianna Kinnier in “Promises, Promises.”

In preparing for this production, Mr. Disher reacquainted himself with Burt Bacharach’s body of work, and called on the talents of his frequent collaborator, Amanda Jones, as musical director.

“He just kept going, every single decade. You’d forget about him, and suddenly he wins an Oscar,” he said of Burt Bacharach. “You think, ‘Man, do you ever stop, and do you ever produce a clunker?'”

This show alone includes several of Bacharach’s hits, including the title song, “Promises, Promises,” “A House is Not a Home” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

“I’m very fortunate to have Amanda Jones as musical director. She and I have done several shows together now and we fit together nicely,” said Mr. Disher. “She’s done a terrific job with this music, and it’s terribly complicated music.”

“What Bacharach did for the score is, he wrote in background vocals echoing the background singers of every 60s group,” he said. “They’re devious, four-part harmonies with no words. The seven girls we have singing these background vocals are doing an absolutely terrific job with very, very difficult music. I give Amanda kudos for teaching that.”

The cast also features Richard Alder, Toni-Jo Birk, Julie Crowley, Bethany Dellapolla, Dane DuPuis, Sheila Engh, Brianna Kinnier, Geoffrey Milton, Tom Rosante, Jack Seabury, Lon Shomer, Christina Stankewicz, Josephine Wallace and Edna WInston.

“Promises, Promises” opens Thursday, March 9 and runs through Sunday, 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.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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