“What are you thirsty for?” That question rings true, delivered by the unstoppable Sweet Sue, embodied by the impossibly strong, vocally-gifted Natasha Yvette Williams (Broadway’s Chicken and Biscuits) in the first moments of Broadway’s newest film-to-stage musical. Williams’ voice surges forth, demanding us to sit up to the Depression and be amazed. And the answer to that query is most definitely this show. Strutting itself out for our entertainment on the Sam S. Shubert Theatre stage on Broadway, with music by Marc Shaiman (“Mary Poppins Returns“) and lyrics by Scott Wittman (Broadway’s Hairspray; “Smash“) and Shaiman, Some Like It Hot roars and sizzles hilariously, with a zest and an appeal that just can’t be denied. It’s exactly what we need, whether we knew it not. And it doesn’t even come close to failing to delivery above and beyond anything we could have imagined or hoped for from this adaptation.
It really is a marvel, part traditional and part modern attitude, rolled up with a tap dancing, door-slamming spectacular at its comedic core. Who knew that something this good and progressive could come from taking a classic film comedy, like the 1959 film “Some Like It Hot“, starring, most memorably Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe, and elevating the material to such grand hysterical heights. The songs from Shaiman and Wittman are wonderfully fun, engaging and thoroughly entertaining. I’m not sure any of them are completely memorable, but they never seem to fail to entertain. That saying, it really is the book that is the most spectacular thing about this show, Written and enhanced by Matthew López (The Inheritance) and Amber Ruffin (“A Black Lady Sketch Show“), they have found a way to bring forth racial, sexual, and gender identity politics to the forefront, mixed in beautifully together alongside a steady stream of jokes that never fail to make you laugh and giggle with delight. It’s really quite dazzling just how well they took the film’s narrative, based on the original screenplay by the film’s director, Billy Wilder, and brought it forward into our contemporary times with all those topical concepts at the forefront. You couldn’t ask for a better remix, expanding on an idea that they could only play with back in 1959.
The production delivers on all fronts. The deliciously smart and fun direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw (Broadway’s The Prom; Mean Girls) never falters, entertaining and advancing the ridiculously engaging story forward in the most delightful of manners. It’s savvy and smart, giving us what we want and adding a whole heap of playfulness and wiseness that we never knew we needed so badly. The script, I must say once again, is the true star, with López and Ruffin giving the cast so much to work with, line after line, joke after joke. And the cast rises to the occasion enthusiastically.
Band leader Sweet Sue (Williams) has decided, after another police raid, to bring together that all-girl band. But this time around, it’s integrated and heading West instead of the South. For sadly the most obvious of reasons. They have their lead singer, the gorgeously engaging Sugar Kane, played by the phenomenal Adrianna Hicks (Broadway’s Six) who dazzles every time she steps on that stage. She rightly makes the part fully her own, rather than a Monroe knock off. Finding her way deliciously and expertly through the paces, even though she’s following in the footsteps of that blonde bombshell. An astonishing achievement. Gathering at the train station to head off West, with California being at the end of the line, both the bass and the saxophone player have mysteriously been side tracked, knocked off the call sheet by some mysterious young boys. Lucky for the band, and for us, two musicians who happen to also play those same instruments are boarding the same train, and happily take their places in the band. The only trouble is, they aren’t exactly who they appear to be.
Most of us know the deal as the film is legendary. And lucky again for us, these two musicians are played by the always reliable Christian Borle (Broadway’s Falsettos; Off-Broadway’s Little Shop…) as Joe/Josephine and the wonderfully uplifting J. Harrison Ghee (Broadway’s Kinky Boots; Mrs. Doubtfire) as Daphne/Jerry. These too, beyond being wonderful in these roles, are running scared, after witnessing a mob-land hit, which I must say, is perfectly staged. So like Lemmon and Curtis, they don some wigs, some moderately high heeled shoes (no red kinky boots here), some plain Jane dresses, and maneuver their way into the heart of Sweet Sue and that all-girl band heading out on the road. The Josephine jokes are endless and priceless, zinging forth with such regularity that you can’t help but fall in love. And both Borle and Ghee know how to make every moment land most joyfully.
The readjustment of time and setting from the Roaring ’20s to the 1930s, wonderfully enriched by the stylish Art Deco set designs of Scott Pask (Broadway’s American Buffalo), dazzling lighting by Natasha Katz (Broadway’s Hello, Dolly!), meticulous sound design by Brian Ronan (Broadway’s Funny Girl), and delightful costuming by Gregg Barnes (Broadway’s Tuck Everlasting), works its magic on us and the script. The attitude and the attachments have been brilliantly modified, giving a more modern mindset approach to self-discovery, rather than just hanging on to the old fashioned humour of straight men in drag. Thank god that was set aside. The framing is powerful enhancing, and wonderfully crafted, without ever losing the madcap fun of the door-slamming chase.
The main highlight of the show has to be Ghee and the evolvement of the Daphne character. It’s a heartwarming enlightenment that never falters or fades, even when the humour comes. “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather,” is one of the show’s many bright spots, but dancing the night away together with Osgoode, played deliciously by Kevin Del Aguila (Broadway’s Frozen), is a good second. Aguila is pure delight, reminding me of the fantastically fun Michael Jeter joyfully taking “a glass together” in the Grand Hotel. Their delightful “Let’s Be Bad” in Some Like It Hot moment becomes something quite the opposite. It’s a revelation, especially during those beautifully crafted scenes with Daphne explaining to Borle’s Joe the idea of spending far too long being both people. The emphasis is true and strong, while never shifting into anything too melodramatic or corny. The balancing levels of comedy and touching connection remain true and intact throughout.
The supporting roles also excell, especially Angie Schworer (Broadway’s The Prom) as Sweet Sue’s loopy and lovely Minnie, giving us deliciously sharp comedy without barely batting an eye. Also giving it their all is Adam Heller (Off-Broadway’s Popcorn Falls) as cop-man Mulligan and Mark Lotito (Broadway’s Jersey Boys) as mobster Spats finding the most delightfully hilarious ways of engaging, entering and more importantly, making the greatest of exits. The choreography by director Nicholaw gives and gives, never stopping tapping itself up into the heavens. It’s fantastically traditional in set-up, construct, and design, and equally progressive in its modern stance and style. It’s door-slamming delicious in its running around, and delivers a Fred and Ginger tap dance number with Hicks and Borle that is a slice of old Hollywood glamour. Pure bliss.