BY Ari Karpel
March 08 2010 5:00 AM ET
Since our interview, the guy who had never been to New York City before landing his life-changing role on Will & Grace has up and moved to the Big Apple. He’s getting ready for his Broadway debut in the musical Promises, Promises, which hasn’t been revived since its original run from 1968 to 1972.
Promises, Promises is based on Billy Wilder’s classic 1960 black comedy film The Apartment. The musical adaptation follows Chuck (Hayes), a young executive in NYC who secures his corporate ascent by lending the keys to his bachelor pad to his higher-ups for their extramarital dalliances. Chuck falls for Fran (Chenoweth), an elevator operator in their office building and the mistress of one of his bosses. Sadness and romance ensue.
The Burt Bacharach musical was groundbreaking in its day for bringing pop music to the stage. The score is filled with melancholy gems like “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and the title song, both of which became hits for Dionne Warwick. With the blessing of Bacharach, this production has the added oomph of the composer’s feel-good anthem “I Say a Little Prayer” being sung by Chenoweth. Still, Hayes had to be convinced to sign on.
“Sean always has to be talked into everything,” says Promises, Promises producer Craig Zadan, who, with producing partner Neil Meron, also worked with Hayes on Martin and Lewis and The Bucket List. “He’s very deliberate. I think that he just wants to be sure. He’s very careful about career moves, and he’s very hesitant about taking on something that he’s not going to do perfectly.”
Plus, Hayes says he’s nervous about “standing in front of 2,000 people!” But he plans to turn to Chenoweth, the stage veteran, for support: “I’m going to be in her dressing room every day saying, ‘What do I do now?’” As for his qualifications: “I can carry a tune,” Hayes says modestly, explaining that he’s “just keeping everybody’s expectations as low as possible. Mr. Mediocre, that’s me.” And it seems like he means it.
Zadan, for one, isn’t holding back praise. “Nobody had really heard him sing before,” he says. But then at a 2008 reading for backers, Zadan recounts, Neil Simon, the legendary playwright behind the book to Promises, Promises, called him over to rave, “Do you know why this show hasn’t been revived in 40 years? Because it took 40 years to find Sean Hayes.”
“My feeling is, if Promises is as big a hit as I hope it will be, it’s a career-changing performance,” Zadan says. “Everybody knows [that Sean is] talented, but this shows the enormity of what he can do. What it leads to in terms of future roles I think is huge.”