There’s No Business Like a Show About Business

Viola Davis is sensational as Rose, the devoted and betrayed wife. Wilson’s lyrical script offers any number of stirring monologues, and Ms. Davis delivers hers—especially when she learns of Troy’s betrayal—with a vivid, bracing rawness. She more than holds her own against Mr. Washington, both in their tender scenes and in their explosive ones. It’s no small feat, and she does it without too much shouting.

PROMISES, PROMISES, REVIVED Sunday at the Broadway Theatre, starts off with such, well, promise. As the orchestra plays Burt Bacharach’s 1968 overture, all strings and muffled horns and shimmery high hats, the curtain rises on Sean Hayes as C.C. Baxter, an anonymous office worker in the behemoth Manhattan headquarters of Consolidated Life. He’s working away mechanistically, stamping a document and moving on to the next one, as dancers enter behind him in mod suits and ’60s-allusive choreography, mimicking Baxter’s office motions but also twisting and frugging. It looks great, it sounds great, and you’re primed for a great show.

But then the plot gets started, and it’s all downhill.

Promises, Promises was a 1968 Broadway hit with a book by Neil Simon, music by Mr. Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David, based on Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic The Apartment. (You know: Guy gets ahead by lending his apartment to the bosses for trysts; one is trysting with the elevator girl that work guy has a crush on.) It hasn’t been revived since, and it’s easy to see why: It’s not very good. Neil Simon comedy does not, it appears, age well. This isn’t the quite painfully unfunny Odd Couple of a few seasons ago—at least there are songs—but there’s not a lot to laugh at.

Sean Hayes is surprisingly charming and ingratiating as Baxter, and Katie Finneran steals the show for the scene and a half she’s in, bringing a much-needed comic jolt as the floozy Baxter picks up in a dive on Christmas Eve. But Kristin Chenoweth—who earned not just entrance applause but also entrance shrieks on the night I attended—seems miscast as Baxter’s love interest, Miss Kubelik: It’s impossible to imagine that such a no-nonsense dynamo would ever fall for Baxter’s conniving boss, much less try to kill herself when he jilts her.

The best part of the show is director Rob Ashford’s wittily retro choreography. It’s a shame he didn’t do it for Bye Bye Birdie instead: Maybe we could have had one successful Mad Men revival this season instead of two disappointing ones.

 

THE PROBLEM ENDEMIC to authorized biographies is that cooperating subjects generally prefer a sanitized version of their own life. This remains problematic even when the gauzy biopic is presented on a Broadway stage.

There’s No Business Like a Show About Business