Wednesday, June 30, 2010

CD Review: Promises, Promises (The New Broadway Cast Recording)

It may have been critically dismissed, and some of Broadway's biggest fans may have taken issue with its star trying on a new type of role, but Promises, Promises was one of my favorite shows of the season just ended.  I loved it so much, I've already gone back for a second look and hope to return to it this summer.  The Burt Bacharach/Hal David score has always been a favorite of mine - I especially love their vocal arrangements, even on their pop hits - and so I was really excited to find out that the revival would get a New Broadway Cast Recording, and that it would be out relatively quickly. 

Well, here we are.  And after several days of listening to it over and over, here are my thoughts:

Title: Promises, Promises
Artist: The New Broadway Cast Recording
Label: Masterworks Broadway
Number: 88697 73495 2
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color production photos; complete lyrics  (Note:  The booklet contains most of the photos in the souvenir program, and is one of nicest such booklets I've seen with a cast recording in some time.)

Of the Show and Its Stars, I wrote: In my review, I said, "From the opening notes of the overture, with its breathtaking choreography - period fruging mixed with Broadway jazz and even ballet - and the most original inclusion of props in a number since Crazy for You, the show takes off and rarely slows down. The entire production dances from start to finish, including the entr'acte and the curtain call (mercifully NOT a mega-mix!), and everywhere in between. And the ensemble is up to the considerable task. It is no wonder they have orchestra singers to supplement the vocals.  Director/choreographer Rob Ashford has taken the lead out of the old school script, however. Gone are the vamps while the scenery changes or the cast changes costumes. Today's Promises, Promises moves with a vitality that can only be compared to a busy beehive - ordered chaos - and it does so with a fluidity usually reserved for camera tricks and long non-stop pans in movies. Ashford has made this into a theatrical onstage movie, appropriate given its source material. It may look and sound like 1962 urban America, but it moves like the 21st century."

"Tony winner Dick Latessa was born to play one of Neil Simons' patented been-there-done-that-weary-of-the-world New Yorkers. And boy does he embrace that here, as Dr. Dreyfuss, Chuck's next door neighbor and Fran Kubelik's (Kristen Chenoweth) savior. He is funny, sweet and delivers his one number, "(You Should Be) Happy" with aplomb.  I was very pleased to find out that Tony Goldwyn can take charge of a scene, even on the enormous Broadway Theatre stage, and even up against his larger than life above-the-title-stars. His Sheldrake is everything it needs to be: smooth, in charge, desirable, smouldering, sexy, cowardly, and really cruel. What makes Goldwyn so good is that he somehow can convey all of those things simultaneously, and even can make you sympathize with him.  Katie Finneran does an amazing star turn in the 12 minute role of Marge MacDougall. She is everything you've read about and more. She steals the scenes she is in, but not without the grace required to bring Sean and Kristin and Dick along with her. In fact, that's what I like best about her energetic appearance."

"As Chuck Baxter, Sean Hayes gets to bring his trademark smile, rapier wit and considerable physical talents to the stage. They translate very well from TV screen to stage. He also brings some pretty decent dance moves and a crystal clear and very pleasant singing voice. The only time I ever felt like he wasn't 100% was during the title number, where he never really lets go. He could and should belt out those last notes. His voice can handle it.  Let there forever be no more doubt that Kristin Chenoweth is a true star, and that she can handle drama with as much, if not more, skill than as a comedienne. This is a challenging role, and she does not hold back. We are all the better for witnessing it. And while the inclusion of two more sings to the score - "I Say a Little Prayer" and "A House is Not a Home" - isn't really necessary, it does give us two more chances to hear her glorious voice sing songs worthy of her time, and she integrates them well into her performance and character."

Of this Recording, I say:  This recording is more complete than the OBC, not including the interpolated songs.  It includes the odd little intro to "It's Our Little Secret", reprises of "A House is Not a Home" and "I'll never Fall in Love Again."  The former solidifies, for me at least, why, dramatically, including the whole song makes sense.  The reprise really ties the two characters together.  The latter gives a nice ending to the CD, and includes some nice dialogue.  Also, if you keep listening, there is a hidden "bonus track" at the end - Chuck Baxter's "Theme Song."  Funny and complete, it also is a nudge to the "gay playing straight" controversy that will forever be associated with this production.

Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations are first rate, as one might expect, but they are particularly notable for sounding both 21st century modern and 60's kitschy all at once.  And the vocal arrangements are, as I also expected, first rate, and deliciously audible throughout the recording.  Kudos to the "Orchestra Voices," who supplement the instruments and give the show its signature Bacharach/David "sound": Sarah Jane Everman, Kristen Beth Williams, Nikki Renee Daniels, and Chelsea Krombach.

I stand by my comments about the principals' performances.  Though there are a few surprises, some nice: Tony Goldwyn's voice sounds much more sure, and his lower register is quite good, and he blends perfectly with Mr. Hayes; some disappointing:  "A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing" comes across rather flatly, considering the bombast it creates onstage.  You can hear that both Ms. Finneran and Mr. Hayes are trying to create the magic, but it is largely a visual performance.  This is one case where some inclusion of a scene would really have made it great, too. 

But the two absolutely best things about the show come across in the recording:  Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes.  Mr. Hayes sounds much more sure of himself than he did the first time I saw the show, and that same build in confidence comes across here, too.  And he can hold a note very well, which makes the short cut at the end of the title song even more vexing.  Meanwhile, Ms. Chenoweth proves, just through her sheer vocal power that she is a brilliant pop song interpreter, but best of all, her heart-breaking performance, angst, melancholy and desperation come out here as well as they do in the theatre.  Brava!

And if you ever need to come up with an example of "chemistry" go no further than this recording.  The chemistry between the leads is unmistakable.

Standout Songs:  "Upstairs" showcases Sean Hayes' acting and singing, and the orchestra voices are super here.  I love Ms. Chenoweth's interpretation of "I Say a Little Prayer," and I also love that the dance sequence has been included.  The Overture is also excellent, and images of what happen during it fly through my head every time.  My favorite Hayes/Chenoweth moment is "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," while my favorite number of all might come a surprise.  I know it surprises me.  I just love "A Young Pretty Girl Like You" (usually referred to as "Happy").  It summarizes why I love this revival.  Dick Latessa, Hayes and Chenoweth, who merely supplies a giggle or two, sing the hell out of the song, and it is clear that they are enjoying doing it for us.  The timing, the joy, the undercurrent of pain all converge here and it is magical.

The whole show is.

Grade: A+

(Photos by Joan Marcus)

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