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Bayou City Concert Musicals Promises a New Era of Tunes

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The season kicks off with a 1960s flair.
By Donalevan Maines

Some Broadway shows promise a fun night out. With Promises, Promises, it’s practically a guarantee.

The musical adaptation of the 1960 Oscar-winning comedy The Apartment, which starred Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray, will kick off the 10th season of Bayou City Concert Musicals this month at the Heinen Theatre in Midtown.

Promises, Promises features a buoyant pop-music score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David that includes “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “She Likes Baseball,” and the title tune, which Dionne Warwick recorded before the musical even opened on Broadway in 1968.

The score “will be more familiar” to audiences than recent BCCM productions, says the show’s conductor, Dr. Dominique Røyem. She explains that each year, out artistic director Paul Hope’s group produces an unabridged concert staging of an under-performed musical from the 1940s to the 1980s that originated on Broadway.

Promises, Promises “moves us into the ’60s,” says Røyem. “It is an entirely different soundscape than previous musicals. It sounds so much of its era because of the way the harmonies are written.”

Røyem conducts an orchestra of 20 professional musicians, along with four singers who perform the score’s smooth backup vocals. “It felt vitally important to make them part of the orchestra, to achieve the Hollywood-style soundscape.”

The deep stage at the Heinen Theatre allows maestro Røyem, the orchestra musicians, and ensemble singers Arianna Bermudez, Bridget Fletcher, Jennifer Gilbert, and Susan Shofner to perform onstage, behind the action but still in full view of the audience. “I wear a black suit, which is standard for women in this country who are conducting,” explains the Montrose resident.

After BCCM performances in previous years, many audience members have lined up to meet Røyem. “It’s out of the ordinary,” she admits. “Because I’m visible on stage, it piques people’s interest.”

BCCM producer Sharon Williams says, “From the first notes of Burt Bacharach’s score, you will know you are back in the corporate world of the 1960s, a time we all know from John Cheever novels and Mad Men on TV.”

Neil Simon adapted Promises, Promises from Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s Academy Award-winning screenplay for The Apartment. The story transports audiences back to the domain of business executives in gray flannel suits who pursued women like, well, mad men.

Gay fave Dylan Godwin portrays Chuck Baxter, who works as an accountant for a New York insurance company. He longs for both romance and a promotion. Since women seem to ignore him, he opts for the promotion, using his only asset—his apartment—which he lends out to company executives for afternoon delights. When his boss, Mr. Sheldrake, promotes Chuck after he agrees to give Sheldrake exclusive use of the apartment for an affair, Chuck realizes that Sheldrake’s mistress is Fran Kubelik, the girl of Chuck’s dreams.

Røyem says, “My first interaction with Promises, Promises was through the score.” The Chicago native was a vocal performance major at Houston Baptist University when she discovered the show’s “Turkey Lurkey Time” as a festive number for small groups of women to sing. The late Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line) won his first Tony Award nomination for Promises, Promises, partly for choreographing “Turkey Lurkey Time” as the act-one closing number at the company Christmas party.

Conducting the show for BCCM, says Røyem, “is an unprecedented chance to do it with a full orchestra, with no changes or cuts to the book material. It’s a very, very rare thing to get to do this gem in its original form.”

A 2010 Broadway revival of Promises, Promises, which starred Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenoweth, added more hit songs that Bacharach and David penned for Warwick, including “I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House Is Not a Home.” Warwick won her second Grammy Award, in 1971, for “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Warwick also famously told model Niki Taylor, “I got your number, hussy,” on a 2011 edition of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice.)

The Broadway bow of Promises, Promises was nominated for eight Tonys, winning two: Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for the late Jerry Orbach, who later found fame as NYPD Detective Lennie Briscoe on NBC’s Law & Order from 1992 to 2004, and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for the late Marian Mercer as bar-pickup Marge MacDougall, who sings “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing” with Chuck. The same role won a Tony for Katie Finneran in the 2010 revival.

In the BCCM show, says producer Williams, “Brooke Wilson is playing Marge, and she’s going to be fabulous.”

“It’s a great vehicle for an actress because the character is drunk, so she gets to speak some truths onstage that you usually can’t get away with,” says Røyem.

Promises, Promises won the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album. Bacharach and David were on a roll, having won Oscars a month earlier for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Houston revival also stars John Gremillion and Katie Fridsma in her BCCM debut.

Hope is directing the show, with co-director Mitchell Greco, musical director Michael Mertz, and choreographer Melissa Pritchett.

Proceeds from Bayou City Concert Musicals’ production of Promises, Promises will benefit the Tim Harris Memorial Fund and The Actors’ Fund. Both organizations support performers who have suffered catastrophic illness or injury, explains Williams.

BCCM will round out its 2016–17 season with two cabaret productions at the Performance Centre in the Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main Street. The first, February 18–20, 2017, will feature more of the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The second will feature an evening of the music of Duke Ellington, May 20–22, 2017.

Due to the adult subject matter, Promises, Promises may not be suitable for younger audience members.

What: Promises, Promises
When: September 15–18
Where: Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin Street (on HCC’s Midtown campus)
Details: bayoucityconcertmusicals.org or 713.465.6484

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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