Southwark Playhouse has yet to disappoint us with its keen curatorial sense for musicals, and producing the Tony Award nominated Promises Promises was certainly a good choice. Promises Promises is set in 60s New York, where ambitious, but overlooked employee Chuck Baxter is lucky enough to own a one room apart. This draws the attention of his higher ups, who routinely request to borrow his room to entertain young girls, in exchange for promotions. The arrangement gets even more complicated when Baxter’s manager Sheldrake gets in on the arrangement, and invites Fran Kubelik over, Baxter’s secret crush, for a torrid affair.
Promises Promises has received flak for being misogynist, with troubled Fran returning to philandering Sheldrake again and again. But I choose to see otherwise. Fran does play a damsel in distress role, but ultimately, her choice to leave Sheldrake once and for all is very much a result of her own inner strength, and makes the difficult ‘will she won’t she’ buildup worth it for the final result. Daisy Maywood’s performance was great, shifting between lustful fox (in Baxter’s imagination), aloof girl next door and complete wreck easily. Maywood also had great onstage chemistry with Gabriel Vick (as Baxter), and this plays out very well in their adorable duets such as “You’ll Think Of Someone” and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”, and shows off her own acting/vocal chops in “A House Is Not A Home”, opting to play up the sadness while maintaining a rousing chorus before the intermission.
Vick holds his own though, and is incredibly charming as our protagonist, breaking the fourth wall and pitiful as the nice guy type character. Whether he’s out waiting for his superiors to finish with his apartment or in vain for a date to show up, there’s a sad puppy-type feeling that was felt across the theatre that makes you go ‘he deserves better than this’. To complete the main trinity, Paul Robinson plays antagonist Sheldrake, oozing sleaze from behind his perfectly coiffed suit, and has an amazing voice that has you wondering if you should be rooting for him or hating his guts.
The remaining cast make up the ensemble and mostly play comedic roles. Particularly outstanding was Alex Young, whose hilarious role as an alcoholic, amorous flirt singlehandedly brought up the energy in the second act from her total commitment to the role and drunken dance moves. John Guerrasio also requires commentary, as the stern Dr Dreyfuss, who kept the humour rolling even amidst the tense events of the second act and had more than his fair share of funny lines to keep the audience giggling. Natalie Moore-Williams as Sheldrake’s secretary, despite her few lines, also had an impactful performance and truly had the last laugh when she got her revenge against Sheldrake. Finally, the bumbling quadruple of superiors consisting Craig Armstrong, Ralph Bogard, Martin Dickinson and Lee Ormsby really made an impact with their fast paced and memorable song “Where Can You Take A Girl?”
Despite its original release in 1968, Promises Promises hasn’t expired yet, ageing much like similar period films such as Thoroughly Modern Millie or How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Although simple in plot, Promises Promises is a whirlwind of energy that goes to some really dark places but is ultimately, very satisfying in its ending, and is a musical that you can certainly take a girl to have fun. That’s a promise!
Promises Promises plays at Southwark Playhouse, London till 18 February. Tickets available here