A film at or near the top of many lists of top ten comedy films of all time, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot was the basis for the 1972 Broadway musical Sugar, which had a book by Peter Stone, songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, and starred Robert Morse, Tony Roberts, Elaine Joyce, and Cyril Richard. Now on stage at Heinz Hall is a combination of those two renditions, Some Like It Hot, with another new book by Peter Stone, additional songs and a whole lot going for it. Unfortunately, there are a few cool spots in this Hot.
The plot has remained essentially the same. Band musicians Joe and Jerry are witness to a mob shooting and must get out of town quick. With little money and no jobs, they resort to dressing as women to join "Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators," an all-girl band leaving town for a gig in Florida. On the train, Josephine (Joe) and Daphne (Jerry) befriend the band members, in particular gorgeous Sugar Kane, the band's star singer. Once in Florida, Joe tries to woo Sugar by pretending to be the millionaire of her dreams, while Daphne is pursued "her" own Florida millionaire, Osgood Fielding III. Meanwhile, Joe and Jerry must continue to keep up their pretense of femininity with the show's leader Sweet Sue and manager Mr. Bienstock and avoid being found by Spats Palazzo and his merry hit men as they follow the band to Florida, seeking to "wipe out" the witnesses.
Overall, this is a squeaky clean Some Like It Hot, even with the kinds of jokes expected with two men in drag living in a sleeping car with a bevy of beautiful young women. The violence of mob killings is disguised delightfully with tap dancing providing the gunshot effects. Curiously, Sugar's drinking problem is a single dark note which is brought up several times yet never resolved. In addition to overlooking that situation, we must also overlook the obvious - that Josephine and Daphne sing and talk like men.
As Joe and Jerry, we have Arthur Hanket and Timothy Gulan. Given the lion's share of the comedy bits, Gulan is suitably silly and funny. Hanket plays the straight man, and he does a good job with that, as well. The problem with both is that they are not strong singers. This is most problematic with the role of Joe, which is given a lovely ballad in the second act, "It's Always Love." Hanket just doesn't have the voice to put the songs over, and he falls short of making this part the key element of the show it could be. Jodi Carmeli is a terrific Sugar; she's got the classic Monroe look with a an edge of her own and she sings beautifully, particularly on her big number, "People in my Life."
Two roles which could be fleshed out more are those of Sweet Sue, played by Lenora Nemetz, and Bienstock, played by Larry Storch. Nemetz is fabulous with a stunning voice and, as Pittsburgh audiences know, great talents as a dancer. She really shines on stage. Storch has little to do but wander across the stage looking for his glasses - really a wasted role and a wasted chance to see what Storch could do with a meatier opportunity (perhaps someone will see him stand in for the role of Osgood at one of the tour stops).
The name that is leading headlines for this show (and the face which adorns the show's logo) is that of Tony Curtis. Curtis played Joe in the classic film and plays Osgood Fielding III in this production. Though his looks belie his age (71), he simply has no place on the stage in this role. He can't dance, can't sing, and delivers his lines with a tone that gives the impression that he is fully aware that all he has to do is be Tony Curtis to keep his job. Even at his best, Curtis is not really right for the role, played by Joe E. Brown in the film, but much could be forgiven for sentiment's sake if he could really play a character. The role is hardly a cameo spot - though it's almost all the way through the first act before Osgood appears, he does have several songs and is on stage for a good bit of half of the show. His introductory number is the big solo "November Song," which nearly brings the show to a screeching halt. Followed by Joe and Jerry's weak "Doin' It for Sugar," this is the weakest first act finish I've ever seen.
The remaining supporting roles are well represented, particularly William Ryall as Spats and his henchmen, all of whom are used most creatively in their tap dancing interludes. A stunning number in the show is "Tear the Town Apart," in which the stage is full of dancing mobsters, brilliantly costumed (Suzy Benzinger) and lit (Ken Billington).
In fact, the costuming and lighting join the set design by James Leonard Joy as being the real stars of this show. The Chicago portion of the show is done in grays and browns, then the stage bursts into color upon the characters' arrival in Florida. All three designers deserve accolades for the dazzling level of work done here - this part of the show is perfectly ready for a Broadway run, though the show as a whole is not.
Choreography by Dan Siretta is also deserving of a special mention. There is a lot of dance in the show, and it is staged very well, particularly the aforementioned "Tear This Town Apart," plus Sweet Sue and company's number "When You Meet a Man in Chicago," and a terrific post-curtain dance.
Some Like It Hot is not a perfect production, but has enough enjoyable elements to make a pleasant evening of theatre. The tour finishes in Pittsburgh on December 1, moving on to Detroit, Clearwater, and Memphis as it reaches the halfway point of the schedule. For more information, visit www.thehotmusical.info.