This is the story of a nice guy, in a world where niceness goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Chuck Baxter wants to be a romantic figure, but girls don’t remember his name. He wants a promotion in his Manhattan Insurance office, and Mr. Sheldrake of personnel is oblivious to him. Half As Big As Life sums up his self-image.
Chuck soon discovers what other people consider his only asset: his apartment. We find him sitting on the stoop of his apartment house in a rainstorm. He has given up the key for the fourth straight night that week, to the fourth executive in his office. The payback—a promotion.
The next day he meets Fran Kubelik at the company Doctor’s office. In You’ll Think Of Someone, Fran laments her lonely life, and Chuck sings that he hopes she’ll give him a chance. Sheldrake officially promotes Chuck. However, Sheldrake knows why Chuck has received such rave recommendations, and he wants exclusive rights to the apartment. They sing It’s Our Little Secret to seal the deal.
Fran reveals that Sheldrake’s promises of love for her and divorce from his wife intrigue her, in spite of herself—Knowing When To Leave. In another scene Sheldrake exposes his own dissatisfaction with romance. In Wanting Things he believes his life is complicated by “promises made that you can’t possibly keep” and he envies Chuck’s “uncomplicated” life.
Fran hears that Sheldrake is a Casanova with a long list of victims. Chuck tries to cheer Fran up and puts on his new homburg for her (part of his new image.) She loans him her compact so he can see the dashing figure he cuts, and he realizes that she is the girl Sheldrake meets in his apartment; he has seen her compact there.
Act II brings us back to the apartment where Fran realizes in Whoever You Are I Love You that Sheldrake does not fill her emotional needs or dreams. When Chuck returns to the apartment, he finds an empty vial of sleeping pills in Fran’s hand. It is a long night: a stomach pump, miles of walking and finally a pot of coffee at 5 a.m. They both sing I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. An almost romantic scene is interrupted by Fran’s angry brother, Karl, who knocks Chuck out and takes his sister home.
The next day Sheldrake tells Chuck he plans to marry Fran, now that his wife has thrown him out. In a magnanimous gesture, Sheldrake offers Chuck two weeks’ vacation as thanks for the use of the apartment, as long as he can use the apartment when Chuck is away. Chuck is finally fed up! He flatly refuses and in Promises, Promises sings his determination to be his own man.
In the final scene Chuck packs his belongings. He wants to get away from the apartment’s sad association with Fran and from the shallow man he used to be. At that moment she walks in, and announces she’s turned Sheldrake down flat. The looks in their eyes promise a real romance.