There was a 1959 film called Some Like It Hot, written in their brilliantly sardonic mode by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. It is still considered one of the funniest movies ever produced by Hollywood, made even more famous by its much-quoted final line and a long seduction scene between Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. (In 1972 it was turned into a not-so-great musical, Sugar.)
Matthew López & Amber Ruffin (book) and Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman (music and lyrics) have transformed the written-for-laughs film into a joyous musical, keeping much of the sharp wit of the original. Most importantly, they added heart and even a surprisingly contemporary spin or two, buoyed by the brilliance of Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography (although all those knee slides made me worry for the talented dancers’ health!)
This creative team, whose efforts can be seen on stage at the Shubert Theatre, made many changes to the plot of the film, streamlining it, moving the story from the twenties to the thirties and integrating the cast to alarmingly brilliant effect.
Sweet Sue (a vibrant NaTasha Yvette Williams in sexy earth mother mode) is a force of nature, occasionally in trouble with the law, directing a compact all-female touring band and floorshow. She is Black, allowing the songwriters to give her sexy numbers that range from shouts to jazz to blues. (All the songs, whether plot pushing or emotional extensions, touch on period pastiche as well as musical comedy styles: Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave” becomes Shaiman & Wittman’s “Let’s Be Bad.”)
The two main characters—cross dressers fleeing for their lives—join Sweet Sue’s band to get out of Chicago. These two—saxophonist Joe (Christian Borle, sweet, energetic, and warm, in the role originally played by Jack Lemmon) and bassist Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee, a fairly new face on Broadway, displaying a great voice and a suppleness that serves him well in drag)—as in the film, witness a mob rubout, not the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but a more intimate murder that propels them into high heels, dresses and wigs to escape as members of Sweet Sue’s band which is leaving for a tour that will end up in California, close to escape in Mexico to get out of the murderous clutches of mobster Spats Columbo (Mark Lotito, properly gruff). Joe becomes Josephine and Jerry chooses the name Daphne after rejecting Geraldine.
Central to the movie and the musical is the character of Sugar Kane. Adrianna Hicks, direct from Six, makes this role her own with a combination of sex appeal and a lovely down-to-earth quality. (Unlike Ms. Monroe, she is dressed and coiffed in a period appropriate way. The multitude of colorful costumes is by Gregg Barnes and the hair design by Josh Marquette.)
As Spats is pursued cross country by the detective Mulligan (Adam Heller, terrific even when he is forced to wear a dress in a little comic twist during an exciting chase sequence), Josephine and Daphne get into situations inspired by the film, including Josephine/Joe falling for Sugar and Daphne/Jerry being wooed by the rich Osgood played by Kevin Del Aguila who almost steals the show with his exuberance and charm. He sings and dances with verve and openness, creating such an unforgettable Osgood that you almost forget the inspired silliness of Joe E. Brown’s performance in the film.
The Shaiman/Wittman score is catchy, particularly the title number. The songs evoke the thirties in subtle ways while enhancing the emotions driving the story.
Scott Pask has designed an ever-changing vibrant set enhanced by Natasha Katz’s lighting. This is eye candy of the highest order.
Adrianna Hicks and the company of the new musical “Some Like it Hot” at the Shubert Theatre (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)
Some Like It Hot has everything a Broadway musical should have: a superb cast, a great score, terrific choreography and the highest production values. It is a totally satisfying package.
Some Like It Hot (open run)
Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.somelikeithotmusical.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission