Some Like It Hot – Farce with A Message
Well, knock me over with a feather, the updated Some Like It Hot WORKS!
The story as it was and is:
It’s (now) the 1930s in Prohibition era Chicago. Itinerant musicians and lifelong friends (we have a backstory in this iteration) irresponsible, sax playing womanizer Joe (Christian Borle) and his anxious Sancho Panza, upright bass player Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee) are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unwitting witnesses to a Chicago mob murder, disguise is their only escape option. They flee dressed as women – Josephine and Daphne – in order to secure jobs with all female touring band Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators. The plan is to quit in California and hightail it to Mexico.
Former speakeasy owner Sue (NaTasha Yvette Williams) is a ballsy, mother earth type with rules: no alcohol and “no roosters in the henhouse.” She expects vocalist Sugar Kane (Adrianna Hicks) to flout both. Joe’s tongue hangs out, particularly when satin-clad Sugar sings Sax men get my motor going. Unlike the Monroe character hoping for a rich man on whom she could depend, this ambitious heroine wants to be a movie star.
NaTasha Yvette Williams (Sue) and the Company
From Chicago, the troop heads towards posh Hotel del Coronado near San Diego (where the film was actually shot) not, as in the feature, Florida. Both gangsters (lead by Spats Columbo – Mark Lotito) and Feds (lead by Mulligan – Adam Heller) are in pursuit. (The veteran actors are just right.) Along the way, we watch the act take shape. Despite Josephine’s desire to keep a low profile, Daphne suggests adding tap dancing. (Jerry and Joe have professionally been the Tip Tap Twins.) It’s increasingly clear Daphne’s second skin fits, whereas to Josephine, dress, heels, wig and lipstick are only costume.
At the Coronado, millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Kevin Del Aguila) falls for head-taller Daphne at first sight. Push-pull interaction blossoms when, a few too many tequilas on and feeling more herself than ever, Daphne allows herself to accept unconditional love. “The world reacts to what it sees and in my mind, the world doesn’t have very good eyesight,” Osgood reassures his inamorata. They get engaged! Meanwhile, masquerading as a German screenwriter whose suitcase he stole, Joe courts Sugar on Osgood’s yacht (without mention of the impotence trope used by Tony Curtis). In Danny Kaye-like Cherman, he refers to champagne as “decorkenpoppin.”
Adrianna Hicks (Sugar)
Hoods and feds find the fugitives at the same time provoking a preposterous, partly tap danced chase scene in and out of six freestanding door frames. It’s corny, cheeky fun, choreographed like a Swiss clock mechanism. The good guys win, romance finds its way, a sunny future awaits. And oh, we’ve had a good time!
It’s immensely refreshing to see a book musical again. Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin don’t just string numbers together as in many film adaptations and almost all juke-box pieces. Dexterous updating of the 1959 Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond original results in intelligent farce that includes message: gender fluidity, race, and women’s issues – as well as a meaningful and evolving friendship, without dropping a stitch of zaniness or heart.
Kevin Del Aguila (Osgood)
Mark Shaiman and Scott Whittman (of Hairspray fame) offer a buoyant score whose underpinnings might be Cab Callaway or Duke Ellington. Most lyrics are used to move things along rather than reveal emotion. Much is liftable. (“Let’s Be Bad” was in their ill-fated television series Smash.) Everything contributes.
Multi-Tony winning Christian Borle’s Joe/Josephine evidences everything we happily expect from the talented thespian. He adroitly sings, taps, and tosses off ba-dump-dump lines as casually as salt over his shoulder. Borle is especially deft at small moments of realization and shock adding verisimilitude to the early-on cad. Comic timing is superb.
J. Harrison Ghee is a tall drink of bootleg gin whose deft poignancy at Jerry’s having found their self (as Daphne) stands with terpsichorean flair and a fine voice. (Jerry could beneficially be a tad more surprised at his unexpected comfort with the new persona.) Carrying much of the message part of the show: gender fluidity and the freedom to live that truth – they’re completely credible.
Adrianna Hicks (Sugar), NaTasha Yvette Williams (Sue), J. Harrison Ghee (Daphne)
Adriana Hicks, who wisely left the musical Six to play Sugar, ignites the stage with her vocals. If this doesn’t get her seriously noticed, nothing will. Having jettisoned the ditsy Marilyn Monroe identity, however, new particulars were not written i.e., the actress is swell, but Sugar suffers for lack of personality.
The appealing NaTasha Yvette Williams (Sweet Sue) belts with the best. Her ersatz-hard boiled role fits as if bespoke.
As besotted multi-millionaire Osgood Fielding III, Kevin Del Aguila moves like Ray Bolger, sings well and creates a querulous personality which is part Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (from Anything Goes), part Joe E. Brown (Osgood in the film) – but better looking, and part his droll, sympathetic self.
Casey Nicholaw’s directorial challenge must be like herding wet cats. He’s successful. The jam-packed show moves at a crackling pace, yet never loses trajectory, sacrifices touching moments, or squashes nifty one-liners. Choreography is high spirited and often acrobatic in a jitter-bug rather than circus way. Differences in character between Jerry/Daphne and Joe/Josephine are subtly pronounced at every turn.
The lush production exults in every visible dollar spent.
Scott Pask’s scenic design is deliciously Art Deco with smooth-moving components, freestanding doors that make full use of hellzapoppin staging, and a train we haven’t seen the likes of since On the Twentieth Century.
Costumes by Gregg Barnes are attractive, period appropriate, and original in a non-flashy, pattern-centric way that makes a peopled set easy on the eye. The designer pays particular attention to body types flattering just about everyone.
Photos by Marc J. Franklin
Opening: Christian Borle (Joe/Josephine); J. Harrison Ghee (Jerry/Daphne)
Some Like It Hot
Book-Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin
Music and Vocal Arrangements Marc Shaiman
Lyrics – Scott Whitman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Some Like It Hot
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Sam S. Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street