Some Like It Hot | 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. | Shubert Theatre | 225 W 44th Street | 212-239-6200
Few things in show business are as genuinely, indestructibly, and reliably close to perfect as Some Like it Hot—every time it comes out of the starting gate it leaves audiences cheering. Billy Wilder’s historic 1959 film has been anointed one of the ten greatest comedy classics of all time in every poll taken by both real people and movie critics alike. Sugar, Gower Champion’s 1972 Broadway musical adaptation, produced by David Merrick with an amiable score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, starring luscious Elaine Joyce, funny Tony Roberts, and the sensational Robert Morse, ran for more than a year. Now here it is again, dusted off slightly to reflect contemporary values and trends, but still following the same basic plot outline—ready to pack in new sold-out audiences as long as they remember how to laugh and applaud and scream like mad. At a time when so much trash crowds New York marquees passing itself off as entertainment, the new Some Like it Hot at the Shubert Theatre is a star-spangled, toe-tapping, show-stopping lollapalooza!
The scenario hasn’t aged a bit. It still chronicles the adventures of two Prohibition-era musicians who witness a gang massacre in Chicago and hide out from the pursuing mob by donning pulchritudinous drag, disguised as two of the hairiest members of an all-girl band on their way to California. Calling themselves the Tip Tap Twins, singing “He’s the needle, I’m the thread…I’m the butter, he’s the bread,” Joe the saxophone player (Christian Borle in the role christened by Tony Curtis in the movie) becomes Josephine, and Jerry the drummer (J. Harrison Ghee in the Jack Lemmon role) becomes Daphne. Hobbling across the stage in their preposterous wigs and high-heel Joan Crawford wedgies, their antics will reduce you to tears. Every time they mention their “supple, perky” bodies, they get a laugh. Unfortunately, “Josephine” falls for Sugar Cane, the band’s lead singer (Adrianna Hicks, saddled with the impossible task of recreating the role made famous by the one and only Marilyn Monroe), while “Daphne” gives in against his will to a lovesick millionaire root beer tycoon named Osgood Fielding III and finds, to his astonishment, that he likes it. Remember the masterful comic Joe E. Brown in the film? He’s now fresh and newly revitalized by the marvelous Kevin Del Aguila. The show misses nothing, including the movie’s notoriously renowned last line, “Nobody’s perfect,” which is sung instead of spoken.
Gender fludity is one of the show’s new sub-plots, and when Daphne sings “You coulda knocked me over with a feather/Cause the lady I’m in love with is me” the younger portion of the audience roars approval. As Daphne, a new star is born in J. Harrison Ghee, and as Josephine, the riotous and infinitely clever Christian Borle steals the show in drag and as a phony German screenwriter named Kip, who butchers words like yacht (“boaten gerfloaten”) and champagne (“decorkenpoppin”). Regrettably, I find Adrianna Hicks a less thrilling member of the cast. She sings so loud you can hear her in New Jersey, but without a personality to match, there’s a sameness to her numbers that is enervating. Through the years, truthful horror stories about Marilyn Monroe’s endless problems during the filming of Some Like it Hot that nearly drove Billy Wilder insane have reached mythic proportions (57 re-takes for a three-word line?), but among her many unimpeachable charms as Sugar was a ditzy glamor the role’s current occupant seriously lacks.
Still, why be churlish when so much of the show around her dazzles so brightly? Like everything in the Broadway theater that is “live” and therefore human, you can pick apart the imperfections in this one if you choose. But whatever reservations I have are far outweighed by the constant, good-natured energy, unflagging humor, and the show-stopping tap dancing that keeps everything moving at racetrack speed. The music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman connect with the book by Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin like the twists in a pretzel, and Casey Nicholaw’s choreography and direction are so busy that the show rarely touches the ground. What everybody did was sit down and figure out how to create, polish and revitalize the kind of joyous Broadway musical some people today might call old-fashioned but masses of others have been praying for. This is exactly what they’ve done with Some Like it Hot. It’s noisy, lavish, unforgettable entertainment—in Broadway’s inspired version of Technicolor! I loved it. I want to see it again. It’s the next best thing to running away to join the circus.