“Some Like It Hot” is glitzy, excessive, frenetic and funny, with hyperactive choreography, a game, talented cast, and a jazzy score with multiple 11 o’clock numbers. Much of this reminded me of the current Broadway revival of “The Music Man,” in that it amps up the entertainment in hopes of blasting us into submission. Whether you leave feeling entertained or overwhelmed probably depends on how eager you are for a fun time.
There is another way the show follows the playbook of “The Music Man,” which was an old Broadway musical with a much-beloved score but a dated book that the creative team modified in order to avoid offending a 21st century audience. The creative team of “Some Like It Hot” has also updated its story to reflect the changed sensibilities of the current era.
But there are three ways that “Some Like It Hot” differs from “The Music Man.”
First, it is not a revival. It is a new Broadway musical. The score isn’t beloved – at least not yet; it’s new: 18 original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
Second, the musical is based on the 1959 crossdressing comedy film of the same name starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, This is the third Broadway musical in three years that adapts a film comedy about men who disguise themselves as women specifically to deceive people in order to get something they want (“Tootsie” to get a job, “Mrs. Doubtfire” to spend time with his kids; “Some Like It Hot” to elude vengeful mobsters.) Some like this not. But that’s not all: It is also the second Broadway musical adaptation of this specific 1959 movie (the first was in 1972 starring Robert Morse with a score by Jule Styne) – and there have been other versions as well, such as a Bollywood remake and a production in a casino in Atlantic City starring Joe Namath.
Third, the changes travel a substantial distance from the original movie – altering characters and storylines and injecting some underlying themes.
So the obvious question is: Why?
Why create a new musical, if you find the source material so problematic or overused or out of date that you feel compelled to change it?
A cynical answer is: The title will draw in an audience familiar with the film, and extend the brand. (The show is being co-produced by MGM On Stage)
A naïve answer is: The changes are the point, an opportunity to promote enlightened values, especially concerning racial, ethnic, and gender identity.
The composer’s answer would probably be: It’s an excuse to create a pastiche score of bluesy jazz from the 1930s.
A practical answer is: It hasn’t changed that much; the basic plot is still recognizable:
Two musicians, Joe and Jerry (Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee) witness a gang shootout in Depression-era Chicago, and in order to escape getting rubbed out by Spats Colombo (Mark Lotito), they disguise themselves as women, Josephine and Daphne, and join an all-girl band traveling to California. Both are smitten by the singer of the band Sugar Cane (Adrianna Hicks), who wants to be a movie star. Joe (momentarily ditching his Josephine disguise) pretends to be a Hollywood screenwriter. Meanwhile millionaire Osgood (Kevin Del Aguila) falls for Daphne.
But even the basic plot has been tweaked. It’s 1933, not 1929; they wind up in California rather than Florida, which allows them to spend a night carousing in Mexico; in the movie Joe pretended to be a millionaire, not a screenwriter.
And there are substantial differences that seem to be aiming for new 21st century relevance.
Three of the principal characters are now Black – Jerry, Sugar Cane, and Sweet Sue, the bandleader (NaTasha Yvette Williams)
Sugar Cane is no longer, like the Marilyn Monroe character in the film, a vulnerable, sexy dumb blonde who says outright “I’m not very bright.” Now she’s a strong Black woman, who sings (in “At The Old Majestic Nickle Matinee”) about how as a child growing up in a small town in Georgia she liked to go to the movies, but “could only use the balcony./Like the movies, life could be that black and white.” So now she wants to break the color barrier in Hollywood, so that “a young girl just like me” would “see someone just like her/so her hopes and dreams would never have to stay/at the old Majestic nickle matinee.”
There’s a new backstory for Jerry and Joe; they have been like brothers since childhood, when Joe’s parents abandoned him, and he went to live next door with Jerry’s.
Osgood Fielding III has a Mexican mother, and when he’s in Mexico, he goes by the name Pedro Francisco Alvarez. He tells Daphne: “The world reacts to what it sees and in my experience the world doesn’t have very good eyesight.”
The band members are now proto-feminists, even proto- social justice warriors. After a bar manager refuses to pay the band what they promised for their performance, they threaten him in a musical number called “Zee Bap,” which includes the lyrics:
Black or white or Latin, Asian, Christian or Jew
It’s awfully nice to know we can all parlez-vous
Say “Zee Bap Zeh Bootalee Atta Feet Bam-Bam”
To any slippery snake who’s trying to make you less than you am.
The most consequential change is surely the character of Daphne. The actor who portrays Daphne, J. Harrison Ghee, who previously portrayed the drag queen Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway, identifies as non-binary. So it’s probably not a huge surprise that Daphne says “I feel finally seen,” and then “I don’t have the word for what I feel.” But she does have a whole song, “You coulda knocked me over with a feather”:
Well, I have tried to love many ladies
Back when I sang in a much lower key
Now you could knock me over with a feather cause Joe,
The lady that I’m lovin’ is me
Perhaps needless to say, the final line in the movie – one of the most famous final lines in film history – is deliberately undermined in the musical. That last line is meant to be feel-good now rather than funny.
Riffing on that line, I can’t help commenting: Nothing’s perfect, not even the original movie.
There were moments when I watched the movie recently that made me cringe. The mobsters were in Florida attending a Friends of Italian Opera convention. Marilyn Monroe was an object to ogle; “Look at that, “ Jack Lemmon’s Jerry says when he first eyes Sugar. “Look how she moves. Like Jello on springs.”
(It’s worth noting that the phrase is cleverly recycled in the new musical, a lyric for Jerry as he first transforms himself into Daphne:
I’ll tip-toe like a opus
Yes, a symphony for strings
This fellow won’t be mellow
More like Jello that’s on springs)
Joe’s deception in seducing Sugar in the movie makes their passionate kissing scenes uncomfortable, exacerbated by our knowledge of the ways that Marilyn Monroe throughout her career was belittled and exploited. (In the musical, there is no on stage makeout session; Joe reports to Daphne: “She just talked, and I just listened.”)
Still, much of the comedy in the movie holds up surprisingly well. I didn’t find the humor adequately replaced in the musical. The farcical chase scenes were fun but not particularly funny; the one-liners were mostly lame, and the pile up of old-age jokes a mistake. The comic bits that worked best were more or less verbatim from the movie.
What works best overall for me in the musical “Some Like It Hot” is the music – and the performers who deliver it, especially NaTasha Yvette Williams, whose character the bandleader Sweet Sue thankfully gets a much larger role in the show than the character did in the movie. Most of the melodies aren’t distinct enough to be memorable, but they make for lively listening in the moment. Here are two versions of the title song, one in the recording studio, the other at the Thanksgiving Day Parade:
But all the leads get rousing numbers – probably to a fault, part of the game plan to pulverize our resistance. There is even a number, “Let’s Be Bad,” that originally appeared in the TV series “Smash,” which Shaiman and Wittman wrote as an imagined song for Marilyn Monroe, but is in the musical given primarily to Osgood, although the whole company winds up singing it.
“Let’s Be Bad” feels like an unintentional lesson: If the music is the reason that “Some Like It Hot” is now on Broadway, the composer could surely have found another vehicle for his songs.
Some Like It Hot
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission
Tickets: $74 – $278. Rush tickets $40; digital lottery $45
Update: Announced closing December 30, 2023
Songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Book by Matthew López and Amber Ruffin based on the MGM film Some Like It Hot with a screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.
Sets by Scott Pask, costumes by Gregg Barnes, lights by Natasha Katz, sound by Brian Ronan, hair and wigs by Josh Marquette, makeup designer Milagros Medina-Cerdiera, hair and skin consultant Cheryl Thomas
Cast: Christian Borle as Joe, J. Harrison Ghee as Jerry, Adrianna Hicks as Sugar, Kevin Del Aguila as Osgood, NaTasha Yvette Williams as Sweet Sue, Adam Heller as Mulligan, Mark Lotito as Spats, and Angie Schworer as Minnie. The ensemble includes TyNia René Brandon, Ian Campayno, Gabi Campo, 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, Charles South, Brendon Stimson, Raena White, and Julius Williams.