Music Theatre Society brings relevancy to a dated musical

By Farah Bassyouni Feb 3, 2023

This past weekend, Music Theatre Society (lovingly referred to as MTS) put on its annual book-in-hand musical. Following 2020s “Cry-Baby: The Musical” and 2022s “Bells Are Ringing,” “Promises, Promises” was presented in a two day showing through special arrangement with Concord Theatricals. 

The musical, set in 1960s New York City, follows Chuck Baxter, played by sophomore Timothy Burhouse, as he attempts to  climb the company ladder at Consolidated Life by lending out his one bedroom apartment to higher-ups for their extra-marital affairs in the hopes of attaining future promotions. 

This arrangement gets complicated, however, when Head of Personnel J. D. Sheldrake (Junior Henry Cartaya) begins using Chuck’s apartment for rendezvous with the homely company lunch lady, Fran Kubelik played by first-year Melea Niesen, a woman whom Chuck has secretly pinned for. 

The script for the musical, based on the Billy Wilder film, “The Apartment” was written in 1968 by renowned playwright Neil Simon, writer of “The Odd Couple,” “Plaza Suite,” “Lost In Yonkers” and the book for the musical “Sweet Charity.” 

It truly is a product of its time, with dated jokes about attempted suicide, the promotion of antiquated social morays and toxic masculinity. This has led, naturally, to a drop in performances of the piece. This is what initially grabbed the attention of MTS. The group follows the tradition established by the New York City Center Encores! productions, digging up lost, forgotten or rarely done pieces of theater to preserve their relevance in the theatrical canon, putting on book-in-hand shows in two weeks in a concert format. 

So, you may ask yourself, what makes Promises, Promises important to this aforementioned canon? Well, the show is the only musical written by popular music composer, Burt Bacharach. 

His distinctly “pop” score made Promises, Promises one of the first musicals to be done in the musical stylings of the time in which it was written, a practice that continues to this day with shows like “Six” and “Hamilton” borrowing from popular music. Hits from the show, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Whoever You Are I Love You” and “Promises, Promises” were further popularized in the late 1960s by Dionne Warwick’s recordings of them. 

The musical also introduced the world to “Turkey Lurkey Time” and Michael Bennett’s extremely challenging choreography for the three secretaries who dance it. Seniors Shannon Berg, Megan Iannone and Maura Rose Pawelko, under the choreographic direction of junior and sophomore Nikkita Parsons and Isabella Rodriguez, beautifully replicated the original 1968 choreography.

 Though songs like “Where Can You Take A Girl,” “Wanting Things” and “A Young Pretty Girl Like You” inevitably show the age cracks in the piece, they also serve as a reminder of truly how far the American musical has come in its handling of, discussions on and depictions of the serious subjects previously mentioned that were taken so lightly in the 1960s. It is my belief that the cast and crew of Promises, Promises put on the most palatable version of this particular piece of music theatre history. 

As for me, I am extremely grateful for the cast of this show. One of the great pleasures of MTS is getting to work with students from all year levels in School of Theatre Arts, and it is my firm belief that the friendships established here will only continue to grow. Be sure to catch the School of Theatre Arts’ offerings this semester:

  • The Iliad, The Odyssey and all of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less: February 11-12 in The Phoenix Theater
  • “Much Ado About Nothing:” February 22-26 in the Jerome Mirza Theater
  • “Dream On Wonderettes:” March 4-5 in the Phoenix Theater 
  • “Water Polo and Love: A New Musical:” March 7 in the Phoenix Theater

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