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NYC REVIEW: Spectacular Fulfillment in The Promise (PROTOTYPE FESTIVAL)

The Dutch singer and multi-instrumentalist Wende (center) stars in The Promise, which plays through Sunday, January 14 at HERE Mainstage in New York City. Photo by Raymond van Olphen.

Rarely have I seen a show to recommend so strongly as The Promise. What starts as an intimate concert experience unfolds into a genre-crossing tour de force spanning an hour and a half, leaving you on the edge of your seat and yearning to hear the songs and performance again.

Wende (foreground) sings a power ballad in one of the show’s many moving number. Over the course of the show, the singer not only slides between musical genres, but also runs laps around the theatre while singing, dances through the audience, climbs upon the piano, and more. Photo by Raymond van Olphen.

Billed as a “modern song cycle”, The Promise certainly traces a broad emotional arc like the famous German song cycles of the 19th century – Die schöne MüllerinWinterreise, etc. Casting performers who can traverse its steps well is much more daunting, with songs crossing over into genres like hip hop, country stylings reminiscent of Dolly Parton, classic rock ballads, and more. The heart of The Promise is the Dutch singer Wende, here seemingly a breath of adrenaline and emotion given human form, backed up by four talented multi-instrumentalists playing complex arrangements that are alternately tugging at the heart-strings and heart-pounding.

Originally developed at The Royal Court Theatre in London with a team of five female writers, The Promise traces something of an emotional arc exploring, among other things, the male gaze and motherhood. That is a vast oversimplification, as is this: the tightly written show is thrilling from from start to finish, each musical number delivered in a different style, aesthetic, and performance style that leaves you wildly excited for whatever comes next. At the end of the show, audience members repeated lyrics and hummed tunes from the penultimate number as they filed out, a testament to the many lingering moments.

Wende (left) with pianist Nils Davidse. Not pictured: multi-instrumentalists Louise Anna Duggan and Midori Jaeger. Photo by Ali Wright.

The Promise plays through Sunday, January 14 at HERE Mainstage in New York City, as part of the 11th Annual PROTOTYPE Festival co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Productions. 

Basil Considine