The first rialto revival of the 1969 musical "Promises, Promises" opened Sunday night to decidedly mixed reviews. This tuneful version of 1960 best picture Oscar champ "The Apartment" has quite the pedigree. Neil Simon adapted the Oscar-winning screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond while Hal David and Burt Bacharach provided the words and music.
Critics cheered Emmy champ Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") making his Broadway debut as the hapless Chuck Baxter, who longs for a co-worker -- unlucky-in-love Fran Kubelik. Jerry Orbach landed a lead actor Tony in 1969 for bringing to the stage this part first played on film by Jack Lemmon.
Awards darling Kristin Chenoweth fared less well, with most reviewers making note of her ill-fitting role as a melancholy mistress. This Tony ("You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown") and Emmy winner ("Pushing Daisies") needn't make room on her mantle for another award. In her case, the nomination, if it comes, will be her only reward, just as it was for Shirley MacLaine in the movie and Jill O'Hara in the first Broadway run.
However, another Tony winner Katie Finneran ("Noises Off") -- who stole that show from theatrical royalty Patti LuPone -- does the same here as a barfly on the prowl who sets her sights on Chuck. Marian Mercer took home the featured actress award for this role in 1969 and Finneran could well do the same.
The original "Promises, Promises" was the first show directed by one-time actor Robert Moore and he earned a Tony nomination. While he directed only seven more Broadway shows before dying in 1984, Moore was nominated for four of them. Michael Bennett did not win the Tony in 1969 for his sensational choreography of the show; Joe Layton picked up a second Tony for "George M" to join the one he won for "No Strings" in 1962. However, Bennett went on to win seven Tonys, including five for choreographing such innovative shows as "A Chorus Line" and "Dreamgirls."
This revival is the first directing job for Rob Ashford, who won a Tony for choreographing "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in 2002 and an Emmy for his work on the 2008 Academy Awards hosted by Hugh Jackman. He also handles the choreography here and received decent enough notices for doing both jobs. Whether he receives recognition for either will be determined by the Tony Awards nominating committee next weekend and announced on May 4.
Photo: "Promises, Promises" playbill. Credit: Broadway Theatre