SF Playhouse makes ‘Promises’ worth keeping

Sporting a “Mad Men” attitude and some standout performances, San Francisco Playhouse offers a carol-free alternative to holiday theatergoing with “Promises, Promises.”

The 1969 musical boasts the talents of comedy hitmaker Neil Simon and songwriting kings Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and was faithfully adapted from Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning film “The Apartment.”

Unfortunately, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, and “Promises, Promises” manages just a handful of memorable tunes – the two best at the very end of the show – and a plot that bogs down with unnecessary production numbers and underdeveloped characters.

That doesn’t stop director Bill English from working through or around most of these obstacles with the help of an energized cast, zippy choreography by Kimberly Richards, period-evocative costumes by Tatjana Genser, clever projections by Micah Stieglitz and music direction by David Möschler and Kevin Roland that demonstrates a clear affinity for Bacharach’s percolating style.

It all centers on Chuck Baxter, an insurance office drone hopelessly in love with Fran Kubelik, the executive dining room attendant. They only connect in elevators and hallways – often involving his funny fantasy conversations – until he scores a promotion by loaning his apartment to executives ladder-rungs above him so they can consummate their extramarital affairs. Remember, it’s the ‘60s!

As Baxter, Jeffrey Brian Adams carries the heart of the show and delivers a triumphant performance rich in endearing self-effacement, deadpan comic delight, impressive full-throated vocals and a physicality so buoyant he can’t keep it contained on the stage. The man is simply made for musicals.

Staking out her territory next to Adams is Monique Hafen as the object of his affections and those of their boss. A pale beauty with a golden voice, Hafen smartly eschews musical comedy perkiness to dig deeper into a young woman coming to grips with her role and her goals in a quickly changing culture.

Saddled with an unfair share of the shortcomings of the score and script plus the erstwhile villain’s role, Johnny Moreno cuts a great stage figure but fares less well as Sheldrake, the self-serving executive for whom Fran is just another entry in his romantic portfolio.

Rounding out the cast, Ray Reinhardt feels a little under rehearsed as the Baxter’s long-suffering doctor neighbor, but Corinne Proctor spices up the second act as Marge, Baxter’s hysterical barfly pick-up with haute pretensions.

Major kudos also go to the very talented multi-tasking ensemble of Morgan Dayley, Joseph Estlack, Rudy Guerrero, Kathryn Fox Hart, Stephen Shear and Leah Shesky who literally keep the show moving.

It’s a fun, attractive and complex physical production and more performances – and maybe a few trumpet rehearsals – will likely iron out some of the opening night glitches as it settles in for its extended run.

REVIEW

Promises, Promises

Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 10

Tickets: $20 to $120

Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

artsJeffrey Brian AdamsPromisesSan Francisco Playhouse

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