Friday, 27 January 2017

Promises, Promises

This musical version of Billy Wilder’s sublime film, The Apartment, hits all the high notes

Written by Richard Barber

Chuck Baxter is a lowly accounting clerk in a vast New York corporation. Chuck lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment on W 67th street. Chuck can’t get a girlfriend. In short, Chuck is a schmuck. His fortunes turn around, though, when a succession of portly middle-aged managers – all of them senior to our hero – promise him a vertical ascent up the corporate ladder for the loan of that one bed for sleazy trysts with girls from the typing pool. Richard-Barber-colour-176

But then Chuck’s world comes tumbling down when he realises that sweet, shy Fran from executive catering, on whom he is well and truly stuck, is being bedded in his own apartment by the arrogant Head of Personnel, Mr Sheldrake (Paul Robinson).

sound familiar? Promises, Promises is the musical version of Billy Wilder’s sublime, if bittersweet, film, the Apartment, starring Jack lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, both of whom won Oscars. Here, the book is by Neil Simon, with music and lyrics by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. So, a pretty strong pedigree.

And no good complaining, however much you may wince at the attitudes paraded before you, that almost all the men are pigs and almost all the women mere chattels. This is 1960. You might just as well denigrate Mad Men. For better or worse – okay, worse – that’s how it was.

The evening is too long. A couple of songs could usefully be lost from the first half: one about Christmas, for a start. And Act II’s A Young Pretty Girl like You, in which Chuck and the doctor from next door attempt to cheer up Fran following her suicide bid, seems slightly out of kilter.

There’s so much to enjoy, though. Gabriel Vick, with his India rubber body, perfectly captures Chuck’s queasy dilemma and is clearly a star in the making. Daisy Maywood brings a sweet poignancy to ill-used Fran and she sings like an angel.

The biggest laughs come just after the interval when a drunk Chuck picks up an equally intoxicated Marge in a rundown bar. Alex Young (‘Do you like my coat? It’s owl’) gives a masterclass in comic timing.

And who could resist Fran singing to Chuck the following lyric, as funny as it is clever, and which strikes to the very heart of the piece? ‘What do you get when you kiss a guy?/You get enough germs to catch pneumonia/After you do, he’ll never phone ya/I’ll never fall in love again.’

But, happily, she does.

Until 18 February at Southwark Playhouse, London SE1: 020-7407 0234,   

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