'Some Like It Hot' review — Broadway adaptation of the hit film turns up the comedy and the fun
“What are you thirsty for?” teases Sweet Sue, a brassy Prohibition-era bandleader, in the opening moment in Some Like It Hot. Well, since she asked, I’d like a new Broadway musical comedy that’s a bracing, fizzy cocktail garnished with a winning cast.
Happily, this lavish show based on the Oscar-winning 1959 Billy Wilder classic rom-com mostly delivers that. Screen-to-stage adaptations are always tricky endeavors, and this one scores points for not just tracing the source but turning up some fresh ideas of its own.
If only director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw wasn’t so bent on selling nearly every song and tap dance number so relentlessly and formulaically hard. A mob hit sets the plot in motion, and the operative word in his staging is overkill. Some like it hot, sure, but not constantly. The production needs more room to breathe.
Despite that reservation, there’s still a lot to like. There’s a batch of buoyant songs by Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics), pros at matching showtunes to a particular period. In Hairspray, the team welcomed us to the ’60s. Their latest jazzy, horn-happy score whisks us back to 1933. Not every song leaves such a lasting impression as the juicy title number, but they all set the scene and flesh out characters.
Bookwriters Matthew Lopez (The Inheritance) and Amber Ruffin (A Black Lady Sketch Show) have packed the story with laughs as we follow saxophonist Joe (Christian Borle) and stand-up bassist Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee). The lifelong pals find themselves in mortal danger after witnessing a gangland execution in Chicago.
The friends hatch a do-or-die plan to dress in drag and reinvent themselves — Joe becomes Josephine, Jerry morphs into Daphne. They hustle their way into a women’s touring band led by Sweet Sue (NaTasha Yvette Williams) that’s headed to the West Coast.
Once they get to San Diego, they’ll make a break for Mexico. But obstacles arise — namely Sugar (Adrianna Hicks), the band’s lead singer who catches Joe’s eye; Osgood (Kevin del Aguila), a soda pop titan crushing on Daphne; and Spats (Mark Lotito), the mob boss out to off the witnesses.
To his credit, Nicholaw sees to it that each scene is composed like a movie still, and the design team lends invaluable support. Scott Pask’s sets are picture-perfect, Gregg Barnes’ costumes reek period chic, and Natasha Katz’s shifting lighting sets the mood.
One gorgeous moment begins on a train and cleverly dissolves into a club in near-cinematic fashion, all while Sugar belts a torchy tune. A baggage car scene where Sugar reveals her big-screen dreams to Josephine becomes improbably beautiful.
Borle is a hoot in the role made famous onscreen by Tony Curtis. Bespectacled Josephine’s growing exasperation about repeatedly being told she’s no spring chicken is a joke that just doesn’t get old. Borle seems to be channeling Mira Sorvino’s speaking style from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion — it’s an odd choice that works.
In the Jack Lemmon part, Ghee endears and delights. Jerry’s discovery and self-embrace of Daphne recalls Lopez’s play, The Legend of Georgia McBride. Like that work, this musical regards themes of identity and transformation with smarts and sensitivity.
Hicks brings the right notes of vulnerability and yearning to Sugar, played in the film by Marilyn Monroe. Kevin Del Aguila is a rubber-limbed riot as the over-the-top and open-minded Osgood. Angie Schworer pops up periodically with a running gag that never failed to produce chuckles.
Following a climactic dance production recalling a slapstick-y highlight of the musical High Button Shoes, everybody naturally gets what – and who – they want in Some Like It Hot. No one leaves thirsty.
Photo credit: Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee in Some Like It Hot. (Photo by Marc J. Franklin)
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