MORE THAN A MOVIESICAL: 'SOME LIKE IT HOT'
I still believe that no movie — good, bad, or even great (especially) —needs to be made into a musical. Musicals of movies (as opposed to movie musicals, which I love) rarely add much that the movie didn’t already have, except music, which the movie never asked for. Musicals of movies are fixated on replication, at the expense of inspiration. They recreate, and then sing about it, which is usually damned annoying.
Broadway (in the strictly tourist sense) loves moviesicals, obviously, for their instant brand I.D. — Beeetlejuice on a marquee sings in any language. That’s why we have had sooo many moviesicals in the past decade, with more to come. Hordes more. I maintain that this is not a good thing.
And yet, Some Like It Hot, a new moviesical that opened this past week has given me pause.
A nice feeling.
Here’s why: By intent and by design, Some Like It Hot, the musical, does not replicate Some Like It Hot, the movie. Rather, it swipes the premise (and, yes, the title) of Billy Wilder’s incomparable comedic paen to cross-dressing as a life saving exercise, and runs away with it, leaving mere replication in the rear view mirror.
This, of course, is not an achievement in itself. In the wrong hands it could be a disaster. Replication at least guarantees some proven, predigested content. In Some Like it Hot, the creators have held onto most of the characters, the plot, and more than a few of the film’s delicious one-liners. But they don’t cling to them like life preservers.
What the show’s well-matched bookwriters, Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin, have instead done is bring Some Like it Hot sweetly up to date by allowing the movie’s hilarious gender jabbing to pursue its natural course as a journey of transgendered truth. And they have a ball doing so.
Some Like it Hot has twofold (non-binary) ambitions: To be an old-school musical comedy and a statement of queer affirmation. It succeeds pretty well at both. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s retro, big-band-driven score scintillates; Casey Nicholaw’s retro, virtually non-stop tap-dancing choreography levitates on a buck and a wing. But they do so over a driving undercurrent of passionately disruptive social purpose. Some Like it Hot has been built to entertain the hell out of you but, through that entertainment, it also wants to persuade you of something sincerely: That gender is not binary. Gender is a musical comedy, the performance of an identity which exceeds the boundaries placed on it. We share our identity in the hopes of finding kinship and beauty. So just sit back and enjoy it.
I found this intoxicating.
None of the show’s LGBTQ revelations are remotely new or especially revolutionary at this stage of our evolution, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be reaffirmed. Especially now. And Some Like it Hot is nothing if not an affirmation in swing time.
I could nitpick. The first act takes a while to get going where the second act just goes and goes. The new jokes sometimes creak in ways that the originals rarely did, or do. And putting members of the kick-ass 17-piece pit orchestra onstage as a part-of-the-action nightclub band is distracting and more than slightly ridiculous when the musicians are up there wearing headphones. I mean, come on, either in or out. You can’t have it both ways.
Most of the revisionist choices, however, are spot on. The elimination of almost all vestiges of Marilyn Monroe from the sexy chanteuse character, “Sugar Kane,” was courageous and pays off in the slyly sensual performance and persona of Adrianna Hicks, who plays “Sugar” virtually mannerism free. Kevin Del Aguila manages to so up the ante on Joe E. Brown’s original daffiness as millionaire playboy “Osgood Fielding III” that, in a very fundamental sense, Some Like it Hot doesn’t truly launch till he kicks up his knees (who knew knees could bend that way?) Christian Borle is no Tony Curtis, and why should he be? He knows how to get his laughs on his own, even if his “Josephine” is the show’s most conventional characterization, and his Teutonic, de-Cary Granted “Joe” feels more than a little lothario-neutered. NaTasha Yvette Williams has been given a glorious opportunity to re-render Sweet Sue — the “All Girl Band” leader — as a rafter-rattling diva and default master of ceremonies. She makes the most of it.
Finally there is J. Harrison Ghee’s “Daphne,” the exquisite evolution of Jack Lemmon’s giddy “I’m a girl” “Jerry/Daphne.” Harrison Ghee gives Some Like it Hot its heart and soul. Plus some swell hoofing.
Do I now think Some Like it Hot needed to be a Broadway musical? Uh, no. I would just as soon have seen the show’s acutely talented creative team create something utterly original. Still, since Some Like it Hot is now a musical, how nice that it’s this one.