I have been away from home more in the last few months than I can ever remember traveling before. The reason was that I became a first-time producer -- which is ironic because my husband was the most prolific producer in television history.
My producing assignment was the show Promises, Promises, which opened on Broadway in April for the first time in 42 years. The delightful musical comedy, starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, was based on a popular movie called "The Apartment," as the musical adapted with a hilarious script by Neil Simon and music by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Much of the story takes place in Chuck Baxter's apartment, as Sean's character finds out that loaning out his apartment to executives in his company can help advance his career.
So much thought and care went into Chuck's apartment, as it played such an important visual role in telling the stories of the characters. Like my own home, it had to become a haven.
Scott Pask, the incredibly talented scenic designer who created the perfect theatrical set, explained that familiarity and comfort were key ingredients to his design.
"Sean's character brought a personal environment and sense of history to his modest apartment. He moved a lot of his Midwestern roots to his little corner of his new life in New York. So, his bedroom has family photos, his school banner, varsity letter and personal mementoes on his simple chest of drawers. His bookcase - probably from his childhood home - had an old encyclopedia set, which we can believe he bought one week at a time because the salesman was nice," Pask explained.
In the play, executives chose a personal environment for their cheating hearts, rather than a hotel or motel, presumably to make the women feel less guilty. "Chuck's haven became a publicly-traded entity, much to his dismay. As he tried to find love in this same landscape," Pask explains, "his personal life is out there for public consumption. His setting brings comfort to others, when he needs it for himself. All his touches -- afghan pillows, vintage fabrics, his oval coffee table, worn sofa, choice of colors, bookmarked books and magazines spread around, painted pipes, unwashed dishes in the kitchen, fancy eggplant-colored bedspread and oversized stereo cabinet -- made it his home. But, it also welcomed the unwanted guests. It didn't look like a hotel, making it that much more comfortable for uninvited couples. It's modest, not lecherous."
Scott did a wonderful job of making the apartment warm and welcoming. The detail is amazing. I was used to television and set decoration, and learned that live theater is much more precise and intricate. I was also amused to find out how many of the props came from online auction sites.
I must admit I was worried during rehearsals as I studied the set decorating notes. There were no re-shoots, like in TV, and no camera angles to disguise problems. Scott had to make everything genuine, yet functional and designed to portray a haven for eight of performances a week for months and years to come.
Since every problem was brilliantly solved by the talented cast and crew, I think it's all right now to share some early production notes to complete Chuck's home, leading up to the first previews.
1) Need a record player where the top stays up and needle doesn't fall out.
2) Need to put different colors of liquid in prop bottles of champagne.
3) Need to discuss food choices and preferences with actors if they are expected to take
bites out of fruitcake and/or sandwiches.
4) Need to get chair Chuck can jump on.
5) Need stronger guitar stand to keep from tipping over.
6) Make chairs spin easier.
7) Cut down cord in Act II apt. phone, so no one trips.
8) Need more distressed dishtowels in kitchen.
9) Screen unit in apt. needs to be easier for actors to open/close.
10) Keep checking the apt. door knob.
I must admit that my own housekeeping challenges pale in comparison to these. I knew Promises, Promises would teach me a lot about life and love and business in the 1960s. Who thought it would get me thinking about distressed dishtowels and door knobs in my own haven?