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'Promises, Promises' gets the Stages treatment

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 22, 2010 - Seven standing ovations later, the St. Louis Beacon got a chance to talk to Jack Lane, the executive producer and co-founder with Michael Hamilton of Stages St. Louis, about Stages' new show, "Promises, Promises." Lane, a native New Yorker and former actor co-founded the nonprofit Stages in 1987. Growing from a budget of $50,000 to a $3.5 million budget now, Stages has blossomed into a mainstay of the local theater scene.

"If the St. Louis community, the St. Louis patrons believe in you, they are behind you so fiercely it's almost frightening," says Lane. "Truly, the support we've gotten from the St. Louis area has been really overwhelming. But in turn they expect quality in performance and in education, and we do our best to give it to our very loyal clients and patrons."

The Stages version of "Promises, Promises" goes back to the original. It is not trying to imitate the current Broadway production of "Promises, Promises," which has seen more than its share of buzz and controversy. Lane said, "I have not seen people laugh this hard in years."

How did you manage to get the rights to Promises, Promises while it is still running on Broadway?

Lane: We had the rights before the Broadway production was announced. Even though we have a signed contract in our hands, when a Broadway production gets announced or a major national tour gets announced, 95-99 percent of the time that contract would be pulled. It's part of the game. It's just pulled. Our contract was not pulled, which is great. So we're the only, outside of New York, production of "Promises, Promises."

So why did we hold on to "Promises, Promises"? I can't tell you. I'm happy we did. We lucked out... It's very cool because there's a real buzz around New York. The New York show is a very big hit, so that buzz has reached St. Louis. There's more than a handful of new people who are very intrigued about "Promises, Promises" and Stages, and that's great.

How does your show differ from the Broadway version?

Lane: We are doing the original script and score. We are keeping it in 1968. When it originally opened in 1968, it was set in 1968. The movie on which it's based on, "The Apartment," is set in 1960.

The current Broadway revival has made a number of changes. They are keeping it in 1962, and they added two songs in the first act for its star Kristin Chenoweth that were not in the show: "I Say a Little Prayer" and a "House is Not a Home." I don't know why they did it. I guess the role of Fran is a big role but probably not big enough for Chenoweth, so they beefed up the role by adding two new songs.

I think they set it in 1962 because of the "Mad Men" craze right now. They made the production look very "Mad Men." What throws it off is that the pop music, which is in the Broadway production now set in 1962, didn't really exist in 1962. The pop sound really started getting hot in the mid- to late '60s, early '70s. So it doesn't really fit.

Why is a set time period so important for this show?

Lane: Without question, a tone and a mood are set with a time period instantly -- particularly if you have the right designers. It's set with set and with costume, and even light choices, colors of light choices. In our production, it's very clear from the very first scene that you are in the late '60s, early '70s. It's kind of a comfort thing to our audience to know exactly where they are. With this show, because that pop sound is so related to the late 1960s, we all thought it was essential to honor the original intent of the script and keep it in that time period.

Why should people in St. Louis want to see this production?

Lane: Laughter. Truly I have not heard so much laughter coming out of our theater since we did "The Full Monty" a couple of years ago. In this day and age the one thing that people are asking for at Stages is escape. "For two and a half hours, please take me away." I don't care how wealthy you are, we all are going through challenges economically, we all have new problems, and we all are under a whole new set of stresses that we haven't had before. And I think that one of the greatest tonics in life is laughter.

What is the Stages' trademark or signature on this show?

Lane: We have a 384-seat theatre, 11 rows. You can't get away with much. You're so close to the stage. In a Stages' production, detail is everything. Props, shoes, wigs, costumes, a complete finished look is so important.

Another Stages' trademark is that we have a wonderful artistic director and a wonderful casting director in New York who helps us cast in New York and St. Louis. We see over 1,000 actors a year for less than 50 contracts. We have become known for finding extraordinarily talented people who want to be here, who want to work here. And it shows. It's part of the detail.

Many other critics have called our productions "jewel box" productions. It's like a small miniaturized Broadway play, it really is. The amount of time and money and quality that goes into it, it has a Broadway quality.

Lauren Weber, a student at Georgetown University, is an intern at the Beacon. 

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