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Broadway Reviews

Some Like It Hot

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - December 11, 2022

Some Like It Hot. Book by Matthew López and Amber Ruffin. Music by Marc Shaiman. Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. Based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Motion Picture "Some Like It Hot" Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Gregg Barnes. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Brian Ronan. Hair design by Josh Marquette. Makeup design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira. Additional material by Christian Borle and Joe Farrell. Orchestrations by Charlie Rosen and Bryan Carter. Vocal arrangements by Marc Shaiman. Dance and incidental music arrangements by Glen Kelly. Music director Darryl Archibald. Music coordinator Kristy Norter. Associate director Steve Bebout. Associate choreographer John MacInnis. Music supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell.
Cast: Christian Borle, J. Harrison Ghee, Adrianna Hicks, Kevin Del Aguila, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Adam Heller, Mark Lotito, Angie Schworer, Esther Antoine, TyNia René Brandon, Ian Campayno, Gabi Campo, DeMarius R. Copes, Casey Garvin, Devon Hadsell, Ashley Elizabeth Hale, Jenny Hill, K. J. Hippensteel, Jarvis B. Manning Jr., Brian Martin, Abby Matsusaka, Amber Owens, Kayla Pecchioni, Charles South, Brendon Stimson, Raena White, Julius Williams, and Richard Riaz Yoder.
Theater: Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee
Photo by Marc J. Franklin
You coulda knocked me over with a feather when I suddenly realized that the big splashy show with the toe-tapping score and tap-toeing dance numbers up there on the stage of the Shubert Theatre, the one with the look and style of those treasured "all singing, all dancing" extravaganzas from the golden age of Hollywood musicals, the one that was making me grin and clap and dance in my seat with a delight I hadn't felt in years, is poised to be the smash hit of the season, and that at least one of its songs, the one whose title is the first eight words of this inordinately long sentence, will likely become a popular addition to the cabaret and nightclub circuit. The show is called Some Like It Hot, and the name alone is an overly modest piece of truth in advertising for a production that is sure to draw crowds of theatergoers craving a first-class, good old-fashioned, rousing original Broadway musical.

Quick: What's better than a Broadway musical featuring a man pretending to be a woman? Answer: A Broadway musical featuring two men pretending to be women. At least this is true in the hands of the creative composing team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Two decades ago, they hit one out of the ballpark with a little something called Hairspray, in which Harvey Fierstein irresistibly performed the role of Edna Turnblad. Now it's homerun time again for Shaiman and Wittman and for a pair of terrific actors, Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee, irresistibly performing the cross-dressing roles in Some Like It Hot.

You'd think the very idea of men dressing as women for comic effect had rather passed its "sell by" date, as the recent wobbly musical adaptations of the films of Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire have demonstrated. Turns out, however, that you just need to be very smart about how you reconfigure this lemon of an idea into pure lemonade.

If you don't already know, Some Like It Hot is based on the 1959 Billy Wilder farcical comedy of the same title, a classic film which has already shrugged off at least one previous attempt at being transformed into a Broadway show (Sugar, which, as my ever-polite mother would say, "had its moments"). Then as now, Some Like It Hot tells the tale of two musicians who need to quickly go into hiding from a gangster after witnessing a murder. Forced to come up with something on the spur of the moment, they don women's attire and talk their way into getting hired to perform with an all-female band, Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators (TyNia René Brandon is terrific as Sue, a mother hen with an edge). The musical sticks closely to the plot of the film, but with some very significant twists, smartly developed by the show's bookwriting team of Matthew López and Amber Ruffin.

In the Wilder film, which starred Jack Lemmon as Jerry/Daphne and Tony Curtis as Joe/Josephine, everything was played strictly for laughs. They never looked like anything other than men dressed as women, selling the chuckles without giving anyone the remotest opportunity to feel squeamish. It was 1959 after all, and it took a lot of clever writing, directing, and acting for audiences to comfortably take in Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding proposing marriage to "Daphne," concluding with the famous closing line when Lemmon removes his wig and explains that he is a man, and Brown, undaunted, replies: "Well, nobody's perfect."

NaTasha Yvette Williams and the Cast
Photo by Marc J. Franklin
There's no final punch line to the musical, but there is a real difference in how the characters grow and change over the course of the show. To begin with, the pairing of Borle and Ghee works exceptionally well. Borle's "Josephine" is the butt of the jokes, many about his appearance in female attire, but also about his near Harpo Marx-like urge to chase after the women while touring with the band. In this way, Borle, who is credited along with his writing partner Joe Farrell with providing additional material to the script, embodies the spirit of the original.

But for Ghee's character, becoming "Daphne" represents an extraordinary self-discovery, that "he" is not only Jerry, but truly is also Daphne. Perhaps the term "non-binary" had not made its way into Webster's Dictionary in the 1930s when the show takes place, but it's no joke, and this transformation becomes the touching heart of Some Like It Hot. As for Joe, he finds himself less drawn to virtually any woman who crosses his path, and more attracted to the band's lead singer, "Sugar" (Adrianna Hicks, a perfect addition to the Borle/Ghee team and a terrific dancer and singer in her own right). Obvious complications abound when Joe has to always appear in public as "Josephine."

We'll leave it to Jerry/Daphne, Joe/Josephine, and Sugar to work things out, even as the murderous gangster, "Spats" (Mark Lotito) comes closer and closer to discovering Jerry and Joe's whereabouts. But before we go, a word about the character of "Daphne's" smitten would-be beau, Osgood. That role, too, has been beautifully reshaped, and, while he does seem at first to be there to trigger laughter, it is he who helps Ghee's character discover their true self. Osgood (Kevin Del Aguila, wonderful!) is so integral to the show, and Aguila plays him with such panache, that we can only wish we could spend more time with him.

Gently, without every smacking us in the face, Matthew López and Amber Ruffin's book for the show does an extraordinary job of applying contemporary sensitivities about gender, about the treatment of women, and about race (the company's Black performers play characters who are clearly identified as being Black, and issues of racism are not ignored). None of this comes off as forced or "by the way"; it's all incorporated naturally into the script. After all, these were issues back then as much as they are today, even if we don't generally see them addressed in a Broadway musical.

As for the production itself, director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw has outdone himself with the many high-octane dance numbers and the often intricate staging (including an exceptionally fine chase scene). Scott Pask's Art Nouveau set design and Gregg Barnes' costumes are gorgeous and spot-on appropriate for this show. As for the score, the songs range from bouncy upbeat numbers, to torch songs, to blues, to jazz, to Mexican musical styles. Together, they are a pastiche of the kinds of songs you'd hear in one of those great MGM musicals (MGM On Stage is one of the show's producers). I kept getting flashes of images in my head, of Judy Garland singing "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe" in The Harvey Girls and of Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds performing in Singing in the Rain. I imagine you'll make your own connections while viewing what is sure to be Broadway's next huge hit.