These days successful productions of 1960s American musicals are standard Christmas fare at the Crucible, but the seldom revived Promises, Promises has a unique selling point as the only stage musical by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Its development from Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, with book by Neil Simon, guarantees a sharp story-line with a healthy dose of mordant wit, if somewhat diluted from the film. The plot revolves around Chuck Baxter, an insignificant staff member at Consolidated Life, and his conveniently sited apartment. His promotion to junior executive is assured when assorted heads of department, notably personnel chief J.D. Sheldrake, use his apartment for illicit affairs, while Chuck’s own love life is limited to fantasies about canteen-worker Fran Kubelik. Chuck’s realisation that Sheldrake’s deceived inamorata is none other than Ms. Kubelik moves the plot into potential tragedy, a bout of heavy moralising and a sweet happy ending.
The songs are skilfully integrated into the plot, though most are not particularly memorable. “Upstairs”, for instance, wittily punctuates a sequence of sketches about the uses of the apartment, but you don’t come out whistling the tune. “Where Can You Take a Girl?” (superbly performed by four frustrated executives) is in the great tradition of song-and-dance by unlikely gents, but Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” needn’t worry about the competition. Ironically, the outstanding song of the show, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, is the only one that sounds shoe-horned in, with an obvious build-up in the preceding dialogue.
Angus Jackson’s lively production is well resourced, with a 20-plus cast and a potent eight-piece band under Dane Preece. Robert Innes Hopkins provides a fluid and flexible setting, with hints of film sets and the ability to create the space Adam Cooper’s slick choreography needs.
In a well-balanced cast, Emma Williams nicely catches the bizarre mix of radiance and despair in Fran and has the voice for the more intense ballads. Richard Frame is an engaging Chuck Baxter, confiding in the audience with bruised affability, and Martin Turner’s coldly unfeeling Sheldrake completes an effective central triangle. Most characters remain undeveloped, but there are delightful comic cameos from Sarah Ingram, literally falling between two stools in her drunken pursuit of both respectability and Chuck Baxter, and Jack Chissick, the doctor who makes moralising palatable – “I’m a general practitioner; you want sympathy, go to a specialist.”
On its way from the cinema Promises, Promises has acquired a more sentimental centre, which, together with two contrasting and cannily paced numbers of drunken seasonal revelry, contributes to a perfect Christmas show.