|SOME LIKE IT HOT|
Giving musical theater audiences what they want has proved to be an increasingly tricky task. Giving them what they “need” is even harder. So, let’s give a round of pre-show applause to “Some Like It Hot,” now at the Shubert Theater, for succeeding on both counts as well as it does. Indeed, this reworking of Billy Wilder’s beloved 1959 film of the same name, set during the madcap days of Prohibition, is likely to have many audience members drinking up every drop.
True, some folks may focus on its imperfections, including a rather overlong second act, with perhaps one or two many songs by the uber-talented Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (including a reworking of “Let’s Be Bad” from their TV show “Smash”) and some tussles with 21st-century political correctness that find book writers Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin on the losing end of at least one argument. But even they will be spectacularly entertained by director Casey Nicholaw’s consistently exciting choreography and the superb efforts of the show’s expert cast.
It’s 1933 Chicago when we meet struggling musicians Joe (Tony Award winner Christian Borle, who proves to be both predictably hilarious as well as a remarkably impressive song-and-dance man) and Jerry (the extraordinary J. Harrison Ghee in a star-making turn). They’re a slightly improbable pair, due both to their contrasting races and personalities, but, as we’re quickly informed, they’re bound together for having been raised together.
After witnessing a gangland murder by their ruthless new employer, Spats Colombo (a perfectly cast Mark Lotito), the boys must go on the lam. And luckily, they discover that an all-female band led by the strong-willed, strong-voiced Sweet Sue (a scene-stealing NaTasha Yvette Williams, given some of the show’s best numbers, including the title tune) is heading west. So, they don some unflattering dresses (which ultimately give way to Gregg Barnes’ more glamorous duds) and away they go.
Of course, complications ensue, though not quite in the same way as in the original film. The biggest one, rather adeptly handled, is that the more Jerry gets used to living as the female Daphne, the more he realizes that this new identity is what has been lacking in his life. Yes, the term non-binary (which Ghee uses in real life) isn’t bandied about here anachronistically, but that’s the word Jerry/Daphne is clearly looking for. And when he finally reveals that truth, both to himself and a shocked Joe, he gets to do it – deliciously -- through the simultaneously lighthearted yet anthemic “You Could Have Knocked Me Over With a Feather,” which Ghee performs to perfection!
And conveniently (even though it’s still 1933), Daphne’s new persona doesn’t prevent the possibility of true love, since “she” immediately catches the roving eye of eccentric hotel owner/millionaire Osgood Fielding (a completely over-the-top Kevin Del Aguila, who seems to be in his own show). Daphne is extremely (and understandably) resistant to his “charms” until Osgood – tacitly acknowledging he knows just what Daphne really is – reveals that he’s also not what he seems: he’s actually half-Mexican! (His solo number, “Fly, Maripiso, Fly” is sweet, but honestly expendable.)
Meanwhile, the womanizing Joe (now Josephine) has fallen hard for the band’s gorgeous lead singer Sugar Kane (Adrianna Hicks, mostly sublime but missing just a little bit of the necessary “It” factor). No dumb bimbo, she’s a smart woman who really wants to make it as the first big Black star in Hollywood, having fallen in love with the movies as a child. (Her first-act solo, “At the Old Majestic Nickel Machine,” is one of the most moving ballads I’ve heard lately, even if it feels a bit like a trunk song from “Smash.”)
Of course, she also wants love, as does Joe, who courts her in the disguise of Kip, a German-born Hollywood screenwriter. It’s not only a silly subplot, but it’s made slightly uncomfortable by the fact that “Josephine” (who, let’s face it, is a man in drag) encourages Sugar (an actual woman) to give in to “Kip’s” sexual advances (which he ultimately doesn’t make).
Still, you will root for Joe and Sugar to get together somehow in the end – which naturally happens, but not until Hicks practically tears down the roof with the soaring “Ride out the Storm” (admittedly reminiscent of “Stormy Weather”). And you’ll root for Joe to accept Daphne for who they really are, an almost non-conflict that resolves rather easily.
Indeed, acceptance is the key to just sitting back in your seat and embracing all the great stuff onstage in “Some Like It Hot” -- even if this overstuffed show sometimes feels that it should have been renamed “Some Like A Lot.”
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Christian Borle, J. Harrison Ghee, Adrianna Hicks, Kevin Del Aguila, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Adam Heller, Mark Lotito,Tia Altinay, TyNia René Brandon, Ian Campayno, DeMarius Copes, Casey Garvin, Devon Hadsell, Ashley Elizabeth Hale, Jenny Hill, K.J. Hippensteel, Abby Matsusaka, Jarvis B. Manning Jr., Brian Thomas Martin, Amber Owens, Kayla Pecchioni, Richard Riaz Yoder, Angie Schworer, Charles South, Brendon Stimson, Raena White, Julius Williams.
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