Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
One cannot say enough about the choreography as well as the terrific dancers Mr. Black has found. They must be mentioned: Brody Awalt, Danny Durr, Cara McMorrow, Shenise Nunez, Richard Philion, Ashley Rubin (more about her later!), Kaley Stevens, and David Vogel. From a sensational opening, choreographed to the overture with steps from all the wonderful dances of yesteryear, to the ultimate showstopper in act two between our hero Chuck Baxter, played by a simply wonderful Elliot Peterson and Marge, aka "The Owl Lady" played to hilarious perfection by Ashley Rubin, one can see Black's deft hand and superb footwork throughout.
Promises, Promises is based on Billy Wilder's wonderful film, The Apartment. The basic premise is that young and middle-aged executives need a place to take their girlfriends/mistresses for a quick roll in the hay (as they used to say in the '60s). Our Chuck has the perfect place: an apartment in the West 60s. In a Faustian twist, for agreeing to lend his space out, Chuck quickly ascends the corporate ladder. I could not ignore how much of How to Succeed..., which preceded Promises by almost a decade, was evident in the story. Our hapless hero is smitten with cafeteria employee Fran Kubelik and is unaware that she is the "other woman" to handsome head of H.R., Jeff Sheldrake. Rest assured that there is a happy ending for all concerned, except maybe, Mr. Sheldrake.
There are a few technical aspects to be worked out. The sound engineer must turn the cast's mics on before they speak. Too many times we missed the first few words due to this snafu. As for the lighting, there is much work to be done. Too many times people are in almost total darkness onstage when the attention is on them. Too frequently I had to look around to see just who was speaking, and I was in the third row!
My biggest problem with the show was, while I know this was based on the revival of a few years ago, I found the exclusion of Sheldrake's beautiful song, "Needing Things" and Dr. Dreyfuss' duet with Chuck to "A Young Pretty Girl Like You" disastrous. Why disastrous? Because they substitute two Bacharach-David songs, "A House Is Not a Home" and "I Say a Little Prayer," for the songs from the original score. If they had been sung with a bit of color and charisma they would have worked, but alas, that was not to be.
As for our cast, The aforementioned Elliot Peterson in the lead is terrific. He can sing, dance and act equally well, and the audience, who adored the show (and this was a Wednesday matinee. In Florida.), took him to their/our collective bosom. James Skiba, our villain Sheldrake, does excellent work, even eliciting a lovely round of "boos" from the audience at his curtain call, which translates to a job very well done. The businessmen, Peter Librach, Kevin Reilly, Rich Hvizdak, and Jeffrey Scott Leshansky, are, in turn, executive-like, lecherous and funny, a potent mixture. Meredith Bartmon, as Miss Olson, Sheldrake's long suffering secretary, was thanked with exit applause after each of her scenes. Butshe should sue the costume designer, and that's all I will say about that.
Then we have the "Turkey Lurkey" girls: Cara McMorrow, Shenise Nunez, and Kaley Stevens. Choreographer Black rethought that memorable number (the song is idiotic but the dancing makes it iconic) with shades of Michael Bennett thrown in, and it brought the house down. Bravi to the three ladies. The first act, which ran long, should have ended there rather than having to sit through the endless final scene.
Ron Levitt, playing the terrific cameo role of Dr. Dreyfuss, is dry and hilarious. A shame that his song was cut. More of a shame is that he isn't even in the cast list in their program. While I am on this, there is no worse program in South Florida than Stage Door's. One can barely make out the faces of the performers, and the song "She Likes Basketball" is listed as "She Likes Baseball." Misspellings, etc. There is no reason this should be and the producer should take heed.
And then there is Ashley Rubin. Ms. Rubin, I (and the entire audience) love you. A prodigious dancer (she doubles as a chorister in act one) with an adorable face, she steals the show as "The Owl Lady." Her scenes with Mr. Peterson are the best in the show. Their song, "A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing," has been choreographed within an inch of its life by Kevin Black and the audience is hysterical throughout. Ms. Rubin, your Carbonell Award awaits you.
Director Michael Leeds has led the company of 17 into a tight, terrific ensemble. The problems are easily ironed out. This is a definitive feather in Stage Door's cap. Congratulations!
Promises, Promises runs through November 1, 2015, at Stage Door Theatre, 8036 West Sample Road, Coral Springs. For information and tickets, call 954-344-7765 or visit www.stagedoortheatre.com.
-- Jeffrey Bruce