I just went to see Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenoweth in Promises Promises on Broadway. Sean Hayes was charming, appealing, and thoroughly believable as a straight leading man. Kristen Chenoweth is always a star. The sets, by Scott Pask, were smart and snappy, the lighting was beautiful.
And the show was terribly, painfully, BAD.
Not the entire show: Tony Goldwyn, in a supporting role, set the standard for acting in a Broadway musical, proving that even in a musical as hokey as this one, a real actor can embody a part to an amazingly effective degree. Molly Shannon was clearly having the time of her life – and giving the audience a great time too – playing a drunken floozy.
And yet, the show, was patently awful. How is that possible? Let me count the ways.
1. Bad Music. Ever heard of the song “Grapes of Roth?” how about “Wanting Things?” or that big show stopper (and catchily named) “She likes Basketball?” I didn’t think so. Other than the so-cheesed-up-by-it’s-association-with-Muzak song “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and the so out of place it seems to have been dropped in from another show “I say a Little Prayer for You,” you’ve never heard of any of these songs. Know why? They are BAD. Unhummable. And not in a complex Stephen Sondheim kind of way. Just boring, and talky, and sometimes oddly tuneless. Bad.
2. Worse Lyrics: “People who I meet seem to think I am strong. They don’t see inside of me so they don’t know I’m weak and often wrong.” Those aren’t lyrics. Those are lines from a Soap Opera character about to kiss his brother’s, wife’s sister even though he know she loves another.
Or how about “I seem to see you differently. Changing as I’m being treated kindly or meanly.” Try singing that ten times fast.
3. Weird Directorial Choices: Now, I don’t know for sure that these were directorial choices, or were written into the script or the (mostly) bad music. But why on earth, in a solo number, is there suddenly a vocal chorus of invisible women doing back-up? Weird
And while Tony Goldwyn was truly terrific as a 1950’s sexist cad, he seemed to be in a different show. He wasn’t “performing,” as most of the other people on stage were – he was acting. The real deal. It was a great performance, but kind of out of place with the “hey, we’re in a show” mugging that most of the other supporting characters were doing. (Which, in a period musical isn’t an insult) Weird again.
I felt bad for Sean Hayes, Kristen Chenoweth, and Tony Goldwyn. They were doing a great job. They were entertaining. But – hello – there’s a reason the show hasn’t been revived in decades. And good as you are, you aren’t good enough to make this bad show a good one. Even the great Neil Simon couldn’t write a book good enough to save the show from it’s true awfulness.
So go see Promises, Promises if you’re a huge Sean Hayes fan. Because he won’t disappoint. Go if you love Kristen Chenoweth no matter what. But know you’re gonna need that “no matter what” mentality.
I promise you that.