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SOME LIKE IT HOT - I like it classic

When Billy Wilder finally relented and attended the 1993 premiere of the musical version of his 1950 film noir classic “Sunset Boulevard”, the great film screenwriter and director was said to quip he thought the whole thing was silly. One can’t imagine what Wilder would have thought of the new musical adaptation of his perfectly silly 1959 comedy classic “Some Like It Hot”.

Notably, the credits for this production avoid any mention of Wilder or his screenwriter partner I.A.L. Diamond, only asserting that the musical is “based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture”. That’s better for the legacy of Wilder and Diamond because their witty, zesty farce, grounded in irony, that is an effervescent flirtation with notions of sexuality and gender morphs here into a contemporary social parable of identity and tolerance encased in an old-fashioned, glitzy, song and dance format. (In 1972, a straightforward musical version of the movie, “Sugar” on Broadway wasn’t particularly successful.)

Book writers, dramatist Martin Lopez (“The Inheritance” ) and TV comedy writer and producer Amber Ruffin, preserve the premise: it’s 1933 in Chicago, Prohibition is winding down, and two band musicians, saxophonist Joe (Chritsian Borle, the Tony Curtis part) and base player Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee, the Jack Lemmon part, and Black), witness a multiple murder by crime boss Spatz . They disguise themselves as women, call themselves Josephine (Joe) and Daphne (Jerry) , and join a women’s traveling jazz band to get out of town. Plot gimmicks get the pair, friends since boyhood, on a train to California (not Florida) on which Joe falls in love with the band’s lead singer Sugar Kane (the Marilyn Monroe part, played by Adrianna Hicks, lately a queen in “Six”). In San Diego, maintaining the drag charade, Jerry gets courted by an eccentric, rather fey, American millionaire, Osgood (thoroughly entertaining Kevin Del Aguila). Joe pretends to be a German-born screenwriter (the German-born Wilder would roll over in his grave just on the basis of Borle’s corny German accent) as a way to woo Sugar who wants to go to Hollywood and be a movie star.

For the film’s aficionados, Lopez and and Ruffin lift some of Wilder and Diamond’s famous lines, like “the fuzzy end of the lollipop” and “have you heard the one about the one legged jockey” ,but here they have no punch, Lopez and Ruffin’s book gets particularly artless when they appropriate the dialogue leading up to arguably the most famous last line ever written in movie history, “nobody’s perfect.” But by that point, it doesn’t matter. No spoiler alert here, but the conceit that underpins the original “Some Like It Hot '' doesn't work with the modern sensibility Lopez and Ruffin apply in the rewrite; it’s not a joke anymore. (Conversely, one might argue, times have changed and the movie doesn’t make sense anymore. Watch it; it still works because it’s comic fantasy.)

As if searching for a raison d’etre for this musical adaptation, someplace in the first act, Jerry recommends to bandleader Sweet Sue (a consistently appealing NaTasha Yvette Williams) the band needs a new gimmick: tap dance. Besides musicians, Joe and Jerry are also known the Tap Twins, a routine they’ve perfected since they were kids, The notion is introduced with all the cliche of “let’s put on a show” but at least it gives director Casey Nicholaw, choreographic master of the big Broadway show from “Aladdin” to “Book of Mormom”, the voltage the book needs. With Sugar, Josephine and Daphne become a tap trio: tap dominates the rest of the show.

Seasoned composer/lyricist team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman (“Hairspray’) deliver a remarkably traditional big, brassy score, observing jazz-infused show-tune idioms of the big -band Thirties and Forties. Act 1 concludes with Osgood’s comical “Poor Little Millionaire” and the title number, a genuinely hummable tune.

Sugar’s big number in the Act 2 “Ride Out the Storm” shows off Adrianna Hick’s biggest asset - her singing voice, but she’s not the Sugar realized by Monroe under Wilder’s direction. The original Sugar is a disarming combo of little-lamb-lost-in-the-woods and femme fatale who wants to marry a millionaire. Here she's a hard working, nice girl with a big voice who wants to be a movie star (and she’s Black which adds to the aspiration, especially given the time period). Saxophonist Joe is supposed to be a real Lothario, who breaks the hearts of women who come back wanting more. But Borle’s Joe is as sexless as hetero Joe as he is as Josephine in drag. Hot? There’s not much heat generated between Sugar and Joe here.

J, Harrison Ghee rises above the trio. His comic range is apparent in “Fly Mariposa Fly”, wherein Daphne absconds to Tijuana with her girlfriends from the band and Osgood for a night of drinking and dancing. And he’s a knockout in his solo, the 11 o’clock number, “You Coulda Knocked Me Over with a Feather”. Mostly, though Ghee’s not taking the whole enterprise that seriously; his attitude - a cool distance about his character - summons the irony the rest of the enterprise lacks.

The spectacular production - sets and costumes in Technicolor splendor - reaches crescendo with Spats and his goons and the Feds descending on Daphne and Josephine at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado (where incidentally the film was shot.) Nicholaw takes the famous madcap chase scene and, in a tour de force, choreographs the mayhem - identities switching, costumes changing, doors slamming - in a totally original fullcast tap sequence unlike musical theater has seen before. Amazing, really.

As true identities are revealed, in this modernized “Some Like It Hot”, both Jerry and Joe emerge, not so much more of the men they once were from their experience as women, as more of the persons they are now free to be. Can you hear a big WTF from Wilder? One thing is certain: for all the talent on stage and off behind this “Some Like It Hot” it just ain’t got that thing. Call me old-fashioned.


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