Home Theater Sean Hayes–of Will & Grace–Stars in A Musical “Mad Men”

Yes, that Sean Hayes, who played Jack on “Will & Grace” and won a lot of Emmy Awards. He’s headed to the Tony Awards next after his triumphant Broadway debut last night in “Promises, Promises.” He’s going to give veteran Nathan Lane from ‘The Addams Family” a run for his money as Lead Actor in a Musical. (We’ll watch for the Outer Critics Circle nominees this morning, too.)

If you want to know where “Mad Men” got its inspiration, look no further than this show. “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner clearly took the name of Peggy Olson, the secretary at Consolidated, for the now famous Elizabeth Moss character on the TV show. Well done!

The revival of the 1969 musical is a smash at the Broadway Theater, with co-stars Kristen Chenoweth, Tony Goldwyn (anew surprise Broadway star–great voice) and knockout scene stealer (and previous Tony winner) Katie Finneran. Let’s just say that the latter appears at the start of Act II and takes no prisoners in one of the memorable performances of any season.

But it’s Hayes who’s a bit of a surprise, and he pulls it off. As C.C. Baxter, the newcomer who’s trying to get ahead at Consolidated Life in 1962 Manhattan, he carries the entire musical. This is no small task, as the book is by Neil Simon and the songs are by no less than Burt Bacharach and Hal David. And Hayes’s predecessor 40 years ago was Jerry Orbach.

And while Hayes is the circus ringleader, it’s Chenoweth who has the toughest task: she gets to sing the Bacharach-David hits, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “A House is Not a Home,” and “I Say A Little Prayer.” She does so with aplomb, maybe getting the songs better than she does the character of a suicidal ingenue who’s having an affair with a married man. As Fran, Chenoweth is a little stiff. You’re not sure why CC is pursuing her and not the vivid Marge played by Finneran. It seems like a no-brainer.

Still, Neil Simon‘s original book from December 1968 remains an Erector set of splendid one liners. It’s so interesting to hear it now because almost nothing was changed, Hayes told me. And it works like a beauty: you see and hear Simon at his best.

And the music is just so impeccable. Bacharach was not expected to be here from Los Angeles. But he came, looking a little frail but feisty and proud. Of course Hal David was front and center. The songs are timeless and extraordinary. They so fit their era but have lasted 40 years. I have never been at a performance like this, where a song–“I Say A Little Prayer”– got applause before it was sung, as if it were a famous actor!

And yes, the premiere was filled with stars: Hugh Jackman, Alfred Molina, John Stamos, David Hyde Pierce, T.R. Knight from “Grey’s Anatomy,” the magnificent Mary Kay Place (who’s shooting episodes of “Bored to Death” on HBO) with famed record producer Russ Titelman, Brooke Shields, legend Geoffrey Holder, Harvey Weinstein (busy on his Blackberry), Lee Pace, Neil Patrick Harris, Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi. I asked Alan Cumming why he dropped out of “Spider Man.” He said, with a twinkle in his eye, “It was a scheduling problem. Didn’t you read the press release?”

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