Review: ‘Promises, Promises’ at San Francisco Playhouse (***)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

Monique Hafen as Fran Kurbelik and Jeffrey Brian Adams as Chuck Baxter in "Promises, Promises". Photo Credit:
Monique Hafen as Fran Kurbelik and Jeffrey Brian Adams as Chuck Baxter in “Promises, Promises”. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Promises, Promises” plays at San Francisco Playhouse through January 10, 2014.) 

San Francisco Playhouse has made something of a tradition of alternative Christmas plays (Tennessee Williams’ rarely-seen “Period of Adjustment” in 2011, the charming and frivolous “Bell, Book and Candle” in 2012, and “Storefront Church” from John Patrick Shanley’s church and state trilogy in 2013). In 2014, they bring us a revival of “Promises, Promises”, the Burt Bacharach/Hal David musical with a book by Neil Simon based on the academy-award winning film, “The Apartment”, co-written and directed by comic genius, Billy Wilder. With talent like that, you can bet this is going to be fun, and it is.

Admittedly, “Promises, Promises” is no classic: the score is not memorable (except for the megahit that was covered by Dionne Warwick, “What Do You Get When You Fall In Love”), and the book dated and shallow. But the polished professional craftsmanship of Bacharach, David, Simon and the SF Playhouse ensures that it works. The production is what it’s intended to be: a light hearted evening out for the holiday season, a colorful and charming christmas card from the SF Playhouse to its audience. A good time is had by all.

The story involves an unfortunate junior executive who possesses a convenient apartment that is much in demand from married senior executives to conduct illicit affairs. The junior obliges and predictably funny mayhem ensues.

Jeffrey Brian Adams is befuddled and charming as the put upon Chuck Baxter, and Monique Hafen does well as his love interest, Fran Kubelik. Even without benefit of a song, Corinne Proctor as Marge (in her first equity role) darn near steals the show as a goofy barfly in the play’s funniest scene.

Corinne Proctor as Marge in "Promises, Promises". Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
Corinne Proctor as Marge in “Promises, Promises”. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

Reliable Ray Reinhardt as an irascible old codger of a doctor demonstrates polished expertise in Neil Simon’s brand of comedy.

Ray Reinhardt as Dr. Dreyfuss in "Promises, Promises". Photo Credit: Jessica Palipoli.
Ray Reinhardt as Dr. Dreyfuss in “Promises, Promises”. Photo Credit: Jessica Palipoli.

The play’s famous hit, “What Do You Get When You Fall In Love”, isn’t sung until the finale, but delightfully lives up to its reputation.

Nothing in this brisk two hour producion will stick to the ribs, but “Applause, Applause” is a sweet holiday confection that goes down fine.

For further information, click here.

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“Promises, Promises” by Neil Simon with music and lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, based on the screenplay “The Apartment” by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond. Produced by the San Francisco Playhouse. Director: Bill English. Musical Direction: David Möschler and Kevin Roland. Choreography: Kimberly Lyrics. Set Design: Bill English. Lighting Design: Jon Restsky. Sound Design: Theodore Hulsker. Orchestration: Jonathan Tunick.

Chuck Baxter: Jeffrey Brian Adams. Vivien: Morgan Dayley. Rudy  Guerrero: Eichelberger/Bartender/Watchman. Fran Kubelik: Monique Hafen. J. D. Sheldrake: Johnny Moreno. Marge: Corinne Proctor. Dr. Dreyfuss: Ray Reinhardt. Dobitch: Stephen Shear.

The Orchestra:

Keyboard/Conductor: Kevin Roland. Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax: Hal Richards. Nick Discala: Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax. David Campbell: Trumpet. John Doing: Drum Set, Percussion. Travis Kindred: Guitar, Electric Bass, Double Bass. 

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