04/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is Promises, Promises an Argument for Marriage Equality?

Promises promises posterI've known prodigious producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron since 1995 when I covered their important gays-in-the-military film, Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story.

This is a team that puts thought into entertainment -- letting the story reflect back to America what might otherwise scream "social issue." Remember their casting of African American singer Brandy as "Cinderella" in that TV homage to hope and diversity? Or how about the racism at the core of their Adam Shankman-directed "Hairspray" about a chunky white girl with a black boyfriend integrating an American Bandstand-type TV show -- with John Travolta in drag playing the iconic character made famous by Divine in the original John Waters screenplay?

Now I know the team is devoted to the musical (Chicago, Annie) so I'm sure their latest venture Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth -- set to preview on Broadway on March 27 -- is straight-up fun. Think Mad Men set to Burt Bacharach tunes. And the blurb about the comedy-drama-musical on a website devoted to Broadway theatre says "Promises, Promises is suitable for audiences of all ages."

But the plot of Promises, Promises -- based on the award-winning Billy Wilder film The Apartment starring Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine has at its core the societal acceptability of extra-marital affairs. Now coming off of covering the historic federal challenge to the constitutionality of Prop 8 where the Protect-Marriage side went on and on about the sanctity of marriage and how historically the purpose of marriage is the procreation of children -- this show promises to be an laugh-out loud ode to heterosexual hypocrisy.

Promises apartment

And just for the hell of it, let's poke a little fun at corporate greed. The main character, Sean Hayes in the Jack Lemmon role, is a worker bee with ambition at a New York insurance company. And yes, just as President Eisenhower warned of the "military industrial complex," The Apartment and Promises, Promises captures the crusting over of the insurance industry's social conscience, if they ever had a corporate conscience.

Back to the plot. In an effort to get ahead, C.C. Baxter loans out his apartment to different company managers for their illicit affairs in exchange for them writing him a good recommendation. No one seems terribly upset by the arrangement. And there's tacit acceptance of his neighbors' assessment of Baxter as a "good-time Charlie" with lots of drunk women coming in and out of his apartment.

The Apartment

But then Baxter starts to fancy one of the women -- Fran Kubelik, played by Chenoweth. Personnel director Mr. Sheldrake (played in the film by Fred MacMurray) suspects something's up, but rather than fire Baxter, he makes a deal wherein he gets the apartment exclusively for his liaisons with Fran Kubelik. And of course, confusion, hilarity, heartbreak and music ensue -- including that memorable Bacharach song, "I'll Never Fall In Love Again." In the end, (spoiler alert) Baxter and Kubelik end up together, out of work and playing gin rummy. In the film, when Baxter finally tells Kubelik he loves her, she replies: "Shut up and deal."

Ah, such a showcase for heterosexual marital fidelity, suitable for audiences of all ages.

Now just because Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are producers with a social conscience doesn't mean they chose to revive this musical at this time when same sex couples are mightily struggling for their fundamental constitutional right to marry. I mean trying to hide a secret can be just as funny as hypocrisy.

Craig Neil TravoltaBut just as Brandy planted in the minds of white Middle America that Black girls can be Cinderella and "Pulp Fiction's" John Travolta can play drag - hopefully those who see Promises, Promises will think twice when some Christian Rightist spouts off about how marriage equality should be denied to same sex couples because the sanctity of marriage must be reserved for one man and one woman.

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