Some Like It Hot? Sure–Billy Wilder’s 1959 farce tied for No. 38 on the latest edition of Sight and Sound magazine’s “Greatest Films of All Time” poll, in the esteemed company of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the late Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. But some like it…not, or not as much (raises hand). As the singer and ukulele player Sugar Kane, Marilyn Monroe is ineffable, just magical in a performance that was legendarily difficult to conjure. And I like Tony Curtis, “doing” Cary Grant, as her unlikely paramour Joe–unlikely, as he, fleeing Chicago gangsters in the Prohibition era, is cross-dressed (as “Josephine”) as a member of her all-female band, train-bound to Florida. But Jack Lemmon, as Curtis’ frocked friend Jerry, tries too hard for laughs, and it’s all rather frantic and wheezy for my taste. I should give it another try, I know, but I much prefer Wilder’s dramas over his comedies.

But Sunset Blvd. had its close-up and no one’s making Broadway musicals out of Double Indemnity or Ace in the Hole. So Some Like It Hot it is, at the Shubert. It has two strikes against it. One, it was already a largely forgotten tuner, called Sugar, in 1972, with Robert Morse, Tony Roberts, and Elaine Joyce in the leads. (Curtis played the supporting role of millionaire Osgood Fielding, Jr., romancing Jerry/”Daphne,” in a touring revisal retitled Some Like It Hot twenty years ago.) Two, Broadway critics and audiences found the recent movies-into-musicals Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire a “drag,” tarted-up rehashes of the hit films. Given my antipathy toward Some Like It Hot, though, I was reasonably receptive to a fresh musical staging, one with a formidable cast of creatives behind the curtain: director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon and The Drowsy Chaperone are among his acclaimed credits); composer, co-lyricist, and vocal arranger Marc Shaiman (The Addams Family and When Harry Met Sally at the movies, here reteamed with co-lyricist Scott Wittman, of their stage triumph Hairspray, kin to this reunion); and book writers Matthew López (the Tony-winning drama The Inheritance) and TV boldface name Amber Ruffin.

Let me cut to the chase and say I was right to be open-minded. Some Like It Hot is the homegrown Broadway musical hit we haven’t had since Moulin Rouge three years ago in the “before times,” a smash, a sensation, a delight. I guarantee it’ll chase your COVID, etc., blues away for two-and-a-half hours.

Some of it is simply the big Broadway staging, always so good to see. Scott Pask’s sets, Gregg Barnes’ costumes, and Natasha Katz’s lighting shoot the works; Brian Ronan’s sound design perhaps overshoots them, with some of the lyrics swallowed in the mix, but a cast album will sort them out. What I could make out (most of it) was bold and brassy, tuneful and reflective, a nice mix of bangers and ballads that put me in mind of the classic La Cage Aux Folles, the grand dame of the movies-into-musicals genre. Nicholaw’s choreography is dynamite: the problems I have with the movie’s frenetic third act are beautifully resolved when the whole she-bang is danced, with surprise contributions from characters we thought were non-musical, and becomes a hilarious door-slamming farce to rival Noises Off. (The sendoff line to all this exquisitely crafted mayhem is an instant classic.)

Some of it is the hardest-working cast on Broadway. But first, the book. An Eisenhower-era cast and cultural attitudes wouldn’t fly today so the writers have endeavored to bring 2023 to 1933. Wisely, the show doesn’t attempt to make Sugar an enchantingly tremulous Marilyn clone; instead the train carrying “Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators” is heading to California (bound for, in an inside joke, the Hotel del Coronado, where the film was shot) and our leading lady hopes to make it in the movies. Six veteran Adrianna Hicks brings her own verve and vulnerability to the part but we’re asked to believe that Hollywood back then was more welcoming to persons of color that the deep South, a stretch. Likewise Joe and Jerry being raised as brothers under the skin strains credulity–but we buy into it, otherwise we’d be deprived Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee in the parts of their lifetime. Borle, a longtime theatre star, can be mannered but he deftly underplays the sweetly caddish Joe, for whose middle-aged self drag is most definitely a drag. The highlight is the tall and dapper Ghee, whose Jerry slips into his Daphne outfits as if wearing a second skin, and realizes some basic truths about himself. “Empowerment” scenarios are common on Broadway these days but Ghee’s forceful, funny performance breaks the mold. 

With this trio doing the heavy lifting the show might have coasted on the supporting players but the show does extremely well by two. Sweet Sue could be the usual sassy belter but as as played by the deeply appealing NaTasha Yvette Williams she is the sassy belter, down-and-dirty in every number and tossing out zingers with equal zest. In the movie Osgood is kind of a walking punchline but the writers and actor Kevin Del Aguila have dug deeper, unexpectedly making the zany, much-married character a font of wisdom and a surprisingly apt match for Daphne. And it works; he enters the show late in the first act, upends it with the rousing “Poor Little Millionaire” number, and well and truly harmonizes with Ghee in the second. Nobody’s perfect–but Osgood V.2 is. And so, mostly, is this splendid second take and rethink of Some Like It Hot, all dressed up in the best Broadway finery.

About the Author

Bob Cashill

An Editorial Board Member of Cineaste magazine, Bob is also a member of the Drama Desk theatrical critics society in New York. See what he's watching on Letterboxd and read more from him at New York Theater News.

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