Review: ‘Promises, Promises’ – A Zippy ’60s Musical – Is Now On Stage At Spotlight

Swarthmore’s Spotlight Theatre continues their current season with a production of “Promises, Promises” .

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

Swarthmore’s Spotlight Theatre continues their current season with a production of “Promises, Promises”—the Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical. Directed by Joe Ward, the production runs now through February 10 at the group’s Park Avenue venue. Performances run Friday and Saturday evenings at 8, and Sundays at 2.

“Promises, Promises” is a 1968 musical based on the 1960 film “The Apartment,” which starred Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. With a book by Neil Simon, the script is full of snappy one-liners and quirky characters. The main plot line tells the story of C.C. Baxter, a low-level executive at a large NYC insurance firm who climbs the corporate ladder because he has an apartment close to the office and he’s willing to let his superior use it to rendezvous with his mistress. Soon other high-ups want the key and Baxter gets promoted. He also finds himself out in the cold most evenings… Finally, the powerful personnel director, J.D. Sheldrake, demands the key. Baxter agrees, not realizing that Sheldrake’s mistress is Miss Fran Kubelik—the gal Baxter’s been pining after.

Bacharach and David’s score is like a Top 40 list of pop hits from the late 60s. It includes I Say A Little Prayer For You, A House Is Not A Home, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again and, of course, the title tune. Ward’s cast handles them all well. Vince Vuono, Christine Furey and Charles Hoffman play the main characters of Baxter, Kubelik and Sheldrake very nicely. Each are strong performers who gave their characters depth, and their vocal skills are solid as well—especially Ms. Furey.

Frank Friestedt’s Dr. Dreyfuss (Baxter’s neighbor) is a well-wrought portrayal, full of warmth; Director Ward (Dobitch), Jack Gallagher (Eichelberger), Tim Carroll (Vanderhof) and Tomas Yanez (Kirkeby) do a fine job as a quartet of execs clamoring for time at Baxter’s place. Tom Martin is all bluster as Fran’s outraged brother, Karl; while Bill Michael morphs from the Watchman to the Bartender to the Office Doctor with ease.

On the distaff side is a fine ensemble of ladies: Rosaleen Gallagher (Sylvia Gilhooley), Jean Marie Martin (Ginger), Cheryl Stark (Miss Kreplinski/Waitress), Jazmin Torres (Miss Olsen), Lisa McBreaty (Marge McDougall), Madison Mae (Office Nurse/Miss Polansky) and Jocelyn Kurtze (Vivian). Each gets a little moment to shine and they all bring pizzazz to Cindy Walton’s and Rosaleen Gallagher’s choreography.

On the tech side, Spotlight has hit the mark. No credit is listed in the program for the simple, yet eye-pleasing set design, but it serves the production perfectly—and the stage crew (led by Jocelyn Kurtze, Nancy Reeves and Diane Galletti) handles the scene changes smoothly and with speed. Musical Director Robin Hazlett has done a terrific job of getting the most out of each song, and her conduction of the three-piece combo is spot-on. Ms. Hazlett is on the piano and is joined by Tim Blessington/Josh Charles on the bass and Matt Galletti on the drums. Cast member Frank Friestedt pops in to accompany I’ll Never Fall In Love Again on the guitar to very nice effect. Andrew Montemayer provided a solid lighting design that puts the focus where needed; while director Ward has created additional sound accompaniment. Board operators are Montemayer, Alex Feeney, Chris Owens and Charles Galetti.

Joseph Ward has put together a nice production, but one can’t help but wonder if it’s the right choice in this era of “#metoo” and “Times Up.” Women are finally being empowered and heard after decades of dealing with the “Boys Will Be Boys” attitude that pervades all aspects of our society. A zippy ’60s musical about cheating husbands seems to perpetuate that mindset. Yes, the ladies wise up and leave these jerks in the end, but none of the men lose their jobs for taking advantage of their positions of power over these ladies.

The opening night audience was enjoying themselves immensely and I’ve heard houses for the subsequent two performances this past weekend grew exponentially.

IF YOU GO: Spotlight Theatre performs at the Swarthmore United Methodist Church at 129 Park Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081. Performances continue through February 10th on weekends. The performance space is not readily handicapped accessible, but contact the theatre as to your options. There is parking available along Park Avenue, as well as in the municipal lot next to the library at the corner of Dartmouth Avenue. The Media-Elwyn train Line’s Swarthmore station is within 3 blocks. For information, either call 610-328-1079 or visit www.spotlighttheatrepa.org.