Most screen to stage musical adaptations feel like quick cash grabs by producers looking to feast on the nostalgia of audience members, but with Some Like It Hot, the new Broadway adaptation of the classic 1959 Billy Wilder film of the same name, with a book by Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffing, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, we have something special, and is now nominated for 13 Tony Awards, more than any other show this year.
For those who remember, this is not a revival of the musical “Sugar,” a previous adaptation of Some Like It Hot by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill that premiered on Broadway in 1972. This is an all new show with some modern social commentary thrown in for added humor and emotional depth for some of the characters that mostly works.
This production of Some Like It Hot is the closest thing to a stage version of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical that I’ve ever seen, with Danny Kaye thrown in there as well. If you’re familiar with those films and the film version of Some Like It Hot, imagine if Danny Kaye was Jack Lemmon, Fred Astaire was Tony Curtis and Ginger Rogers was Marilyn Monroe.
With that as a template, we have Christian Borle, playing Joe, who Tony Curtis played in the movie. Joe and his best friend Jerry, the Jack Lemmon character, played by J. Harrison Ghee, are night club performers who witness a gangland murder and go on the run. To hide from the mobsters, led by Spats, played by Mark Lotito, the two men go into hiding disguised as women, joining an all women jazz ensemble, led by band director Sweet Sue, played by NaTasha Yvette Williams, and featuring Sugar, the Marilyn Monroe character, played by Adrianna Hicks.
“Some Like It Hot” is a rollicking good time where almost every dance number is a showstopper as Borle and Ghee tap and sing their way into quite unbelievable situations, because let’s be honest, Dustin Hoffman made a more convincing woman in Tootsie than Borle does here. But that’s all part of the completely farcical fun of “Some Like It Hot.” Almost none of this show is believable, whether it be an unescorted all-women’s music ensemble traveling across the country, or Borle’s drag personna of Josephine, or even Ghee’s initial personna of Daphne, which evolves into a much more complex character evolution than what the film was willing to take risks with.
But the fact that none of this would be truly believable if we stopped and thought about it too long doesn’t matter, because Nicholaw keeps the action moving so quickly that we can be swept away into the insanity that ensues for the following two and a half hours.
The heart of the show is its song and dance numbers. Like the Fred and Ginger movies of its time, most of “Some Like It Hot”’s songs don’t move the plot forward beyond the cursory connection to the fact the characters are performers performing numbers on stage most of the time. Borle and Hicks have a marvelous duet in the second act, “Dance the World Away” where they have the obligatory 1930s-esque staircase song and dance sequence.
Ghee gets a great song of inner self-discovery with “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather,” as Jerry, or more appropriately, Daphne at this point, realizes this is who she wants to be.
I find it interesting that I chose two numbers from the first half of act two, as I think the numbers are great, but it ironically is the part of the story that veers away from the main plot and does so for far too long as Spats and his henchmen are more or less non-entities at this point in the story. The main drama of the piece is lost for a time as we go on a long journey of character development. But once the gangsters do show up for the raucous finale, the show kicks back into high gear with what can only be described as a mix of the classic Scooby-Doo door chase sequence with the Anything Goes number from the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s absurd, it’s ridiculous, and yet it is soooo funny, and choreographed to split second precision by Nicholaw and I loved it all.
The cast is all delightful. Borle and Ghee are great together, and Ghee is wonderful in the aforementioned “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather” number. Hicks is excellent as Sugar, but kind of gets lost in the mix at times as the expansion of the show’s themes doesn’t do much in expanding her part and motivations.
The scene stealer though is Kevin Del Aguila, who plays the root beer baron Osgood, who is smitten with Daphne and spends most of the show trying to chase Daphne down. Frankly, Some Like It Hot was starting to stall a little as the first act started to spin its wheels, getting stuck in its plot until its characters arrived in San Diego. Del Aguila gives the show one huge shot in the arm. His energy and brilliance is infectious and a pleasure to watch. Osgood’s pursuit of Jerry, or should I say Daphne, leads to the biggest change in the show versus the film, which I won’t mention so as not to ruin what happens for you. Though I think it’s a great change for a contemporary Broadway audience not bound by censorship codes, I think the landing could have been stuck just a little better, and I’ll leave it at that.
But wow, what an enjoyable musical Some Like it Hot is in the most classic of musical traditions. It’s a hot jazz musical with show stopping dance numbers and side-splitting comedy. An absolute must see.