As someone who loves musicals, I admit this with some shame: Until Promises, Promises, I’d never seen Kristin Chenoweth in anything. I remember her Tony win for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown only because I taped it on VHS while I was in high school, and I was a little too old—and a little too poor—to get excited about Wicked when it first opened.
So I was excited to see this show, but a little incredulous that she could ever live up to her formidable hype. This is an actress, after all, who has been a part of every theater fan’s Ultimate Fantasy Cast for the last decade. We’ve wanted her to play everyone from Eliza to Auntie Mame. And we got Fran.
In Promises, Promises, Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach’s musical take on the film The Apartment, it’s hard to know what to make of Chenoweth. Mostly, I wonderReed what the hell everyone had been freaking out about for most of my musical-loving life. Playing Fran Kubelik, a corporate cafeteria waitress down on her luck, Chenoweth seemed more grumpy than fragile. She can sing the songs, for sure, but you got the sense that she’d been directed to not smile under any circumstances, like doing so would blow any chance of creating a convincingly depressive character.
In fact, the real story here is hardly about Chenoweth at all. It’s about her costar Sean Hayes, who manages to steal the show out from under her by the time you even get to her first song. As middle manager Chuck Baxter, his performance manages to be as charming and light on its feet as hers is wooden. (A joke about nasal spray is just about the funniest on Broadway this season.) In fact, he makes what would otherwise be a rather cumbersome show—seriously, there are times when the thing feels like it’s four hours long—a mostly painless jaunt.