"Michael Disher” and “musicals” regularly belong in the same sentence. Fortunately for him—and us—he has ample talent to ply his passion locally with two gifted performers, Shannon DuPuis and Darren Ottati.
They are the two winning stars of a bright and ultimately upbeat production of “Promises, Promises” that lives up to its name in its current production at the Southampton Cultural Center.
Under Mr. Disher’s electric direction, the swinging period piece from the 1960s retains the zippy verve that surely Neil Simon, who wrote the book, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote the music and lyrics, intended.
No doubt about it, the plot line is smarmy: Guy trying to get ahead at a huge insurance firm lets married executives use his “bachelor pad” for trysts with “girls” who work under them, to use the vernacular of the times. He’s promised a kick upstairs in return. Trouble is, the girl who ignores him at work is not only the very one he has a crush on, but she’s in love with a serial philanderer, the slimy villain of this story. Of course, they use our protagonist’s place.
Yes, the women are treated as eminently replaceable with tomorrow’s younger, thinner version.
Yes, the vibe reflects the era before feminism and corporate rules about sexual fraternization.
Under the direction of the nervous, edgy Mr. Disher and his ever-appealing two leads, the tawdriness of the setup falls away. It’s a romantic comedy with doors that open and shut as in farce, and you know it’s not going to end like a dark Swedish drama. Sit back and enjoy the getting there—especially the music, for the songs are the thing: Eighteen bouncy pop tunes, not counting the overture by the six-piece orchestra off stage, with catchy but repetitive lyrics, propel the story forward.
Mr. Ottati’s rich and resonant baritone wowed us last year in a concert version of “South Pacific.” Here, as the hapless but likable schlemiel Chuck Baxter, he has real acting duties as well, for this is the whole script that was on Broadway—and Mr. Ottati’s undeniable charm seduces us from the first time we meet him. We want to cheer for him at every turn. He addresses the audience throughout, and we know that he’s not a conniving jerk. He’s a sympathetic everyman.
As she was in “South Pacific,” Shannon DuPuis is once again the object of his unrequited affection, and here, as executive dining room hostess Fran Kubelik, she is delightful. Ms. DuPuis’s strong, modulated voice commands the room, but this role let her acting chops shine. By turns she is perky, distraught, resigned—a winsome waif hoping marriage comes with love.
Edna Winston as the sexy and addled barfly Marge MacDougall, who opens the second act as she comes on to Chuck, is superb. In the past, I’ve wanted to see Ms. Winston let it rip—as she always seemed to be holding something back—but here she gives a boffo comedic performance, coy as a cat, arch as someone who knows the score.
Jack Seabury is first-rate as J.D. Sheldrake, the sleazy boss. His robust voice has given him the leading role in numerous musicals elsewhere. His duet with Mr. Ottati, “It’s Our Little Secret,” is splendid. Josephine Wallace as Mr. Sheldrake’s truth-telling secretary has a good turn as the woman who’s been there, done that.
Several in the cast of 16 do double duty in the chorus, not only singing but dancing, where they are under the direction of Mr. Disher and Ms. DuPuis. Okay, it’s not Broadway, but the pair put the chorus line through their steps to engaging effect. With her extensive dance background, Ms. DuPuis grabs your attention whenever she’s in the mix.
The sets are minimal—six cubes, a platform, six chairs, two doors—but it all works. This production also has screens off to the each side with graphics that announce the scene changes. Sounds simple, but they add a pleasing lagniappe.
Amanda Jones, an East Hampton native and voice and piano teacher, was the musical director in recent productions at Southampton Cultural Center and elsewhere locally. She is rarely singled out, but she and the five other musicians deserve attention. They provide live music from behind the curtains.
Others in the production are: Richard Adler, Toni-Jo Birk, Julie Crowley, Bethany Dellapolla, Dane DuPuis, Sheila Engh, Brianna Kinnier, Geoffrey Milton, Tom Rosante, Lon Irving Shomer, Christina Stenkewicz.
“Promises, Promises” premiered in 1968 on Broadway, eight years after the Oscar-winning movie “The Apartment,” on which the story is based. “The Apartment” is a mordant take on the situation; the film might be more realistic, but for the winter blahs—a mid-March blizzard is heading our way as I write—this production is the tonic. It will leaving you remembering why “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “I Say a Little Prayer” were such big hits in the Sixties.
That is, if you are old enough to remember the Sixties.
“Promises, Promises” runs Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through March 26. General admission is $28, or $15 for students under 21. For tickets and more information, call 631-287-4377, or go to scc-arts.org.