By Peter Filichia
Get the new revival cast album of Promises Promises, and you’ll be convinced that composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David were robbed on April 20, 1969.
No, they didn’t lose the Tony Award® for Best Score that year; there simply WAS no Best Score Tony Award® given to any composer and lyricist for 1968-1969 season. For the first time in eight years the category had been dropped.
Although 1776 captured the Best Musical Tony® that season, there’s an excellent chance that Bacharach and David would have won over 1776 songwriter Sherman Edwards, had the Best Score category stayed in place. After all, three of the songs for their musical version of The Apartment – the title song, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and “Knowing When to Leave” – had received cover recordings, national attention and a good number of sales.
Now the 2010 revival cast album has added two more Bacharach and David songs of yore. Granted, neither “I Say a Little Prayer” nor “A House Is Not a Home” is very apt for The Apt. musical. “House” was the title song from a bio-pic movie about Polly Adler, the Marcus Lycus of Manhattan who ran The Best Little Whorehouse in Midtown. Can this song possibly fit the story of C.C. Baxter (Sean Hayes), who yearns for fellow employee Fran Kubelik (Kristin Chenoweth), unaware that she’s romantically involved with his boss Jeff Sheldrake (Tony Goldwyn)?
But on disc the two extra songs are a treat, thanks to the exuberant way that Chenoweth sings “Prayer” and the plaintive way she croons “House.” If Chenoweth had been around to sing these songs when they were originally written, she might well have had landmark hits with them. Let her youth be her consolation!
And the original songs from the score? The vamp on “Knowing When to Leave” is a little slower than it is on the 1968 original cast album, but that gives us that much more time to savor it. Chenoweth is at first wistful, amidst some heavenly drum-playing; then she attacks, but soon returns to feeling frustrated in the line, “But like a fool I don’t know.” We do; she’s sensational.
Hayes has a nice voice and a pleasant vibrato that he exhibits throughout the recording – which many of us discovered he had when he sang a few bars of “A Room without Windows” (from the 1964 musical What Makes Sammy Run?) on the Will & Grace pilot. He does especially well on “She Likes Basketball.” (Whoever would have dreamed, ever would have thought, that a song about sports would be placed in ¾ time?) Hayes also gets a reprise of “House” and the verse to “Our Little Secret,” which until now had been a secret to Promises listeners. Hayes alone makes the most of the title song, but for the show’s big hit — “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” — both he and Chenoweth are wonderfully sensitive.
Goldwyn, most famous for his appearance in Ghost, certainly doesn’t sound ghostly here, but imbues “Wanting Things” with great emotion. Dick Latessa, one of three Tony®-winners in the cast, nicely duets with Hayes on “A Young Pretty Girl Like You.” It’s a song whose music somehow manages to sound funny, too.
Can performers who sing be called unsung heroes? If so, then that’s the perfect description for Nikki Rene Daniels, Sara Jane Everman, Chelsea Krombach and Kristen Beth Williams, who are the show’s back-up singers. What a crisp delivery each has! They make a far greater impression than their counterparts on the original cast album.
There’s another intriguing component to the two additional songs; for the first time, we get a chance to hear what Jonathan Tunick, still Broadway’s premier orchestrator, could do with them. The results are great fun, especially in the bridge of “Prayer.”
Tunick’s exemplary work on the original 1968 production so impressed Stephen Sondheim that the composer-lyricist entrusted his next musical to him: Company. And the show after that, and many shows after that. One reason why: While the musical instrument we most associate with a wedding is an organ, in the comedy number “Where Can You Take a Girl?” sung by randy men, Tunick uses the organ to celebrate infidelity. True, the original 1968 orchestrations were created for more musicians than are heard here, but Tunick makes the most of what he has – especially in the longer and slightly different but equally exciting overture.
The score also features plenty of terrific “ride-outs” – i.e., what the orchestra plays at the very end of the song — for which we may have to credit the composer. But whether Tunick or Bacharach wrote them, they’re all marvelous, from the confident brass of “Our Little Secret” to the snazzy finish for “Where Can You Take a Girl?” The ride-out for “A House Is Not a Home” smartly previews “Whoever You Are, I Love You” – which has its own tender ride-out from some single-finger piano playing.
David Chase also gets credit for marvelously arranging some dance music. “Knowing When to Leave” and “Turkey Lurkey Time” – celebrating the Christmas office party — have different and/or additional dance music from what can be found on the original 1968 cast album. Even more embellishes “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing,” in which Chuck meets a drunken floozie (the Tony®-winning Katie Finneran). The cut contains a bit of cha-cha, plenty of Bacharach trumpet bleats, and a subtle echo of “Where Can You Take a Girl?” Listen for it.
And speaking of “Where Can You Take a Girl?” it contains a lyric worth noting. The overheated businessmen advise their buddies, “Put on some records and then go beserk.” That’s good advice – especially if one of the recordings is this 2010 revival cast album of Promises, Promises.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for www.theatermania.com