AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book by Peter Stone
Based on the Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L.Diamond
From a Story by Robert Thoeren
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Directed and Choreographed by Dan Siretta
Starring Tony Curtis
The Playhouse Theatre, at the Hotel du Pont, 10th & Market Streets, Wilmington, DE
Through April 6th
Tickets: (302) 656-4401, 1-800-338-0881

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Based on the 1959 hit film, "Some Like It Hot", this show has been reconceived from the 1972 musical, "Sugar" that starred Robert Morse. This version features a new and funnier book by Peter Stone and additional songs from the Jule Styne songbook.

For those who've never seen this Billy Wilder film classic the plot goes: Two out-of-work musicians witness the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre in a Chicago garage and are forced to go on the lam. They disguise themselves as female musicians ("Josephine" and "Daphne") in an all-girl jazz band en route to Florida. In the film, Tony Curtis portrayed one of the musicians who tries to win the affections of the young band singer, Sugar, played by Marilyn Monroe. In this stage version, Mr. Curtis plays Osgood Fielding III, a randy senior millionaire who tries to woo Daphne.

This show really belongs to three people. Timothy Gulan (Jerry/Daphne), Jodi Carmeli (Sugar), and Arthur Hanket (Joe/Josephine). Unfortunately, that's not the way it's written, packaged or sold. The predominantly over-sixty crowd at the Playhouse came to see the "star" of the show, Tony Curtis. And Mr. Curtis did not disappoint them, for Mr. Curtis looks every inch "the star" -- a star transported from Hollywood in a quantum leap into a musical road show. In the opening scene Mr. Curtis, as Osgood, appears in a black tuxedo with a wide open collared shirt looking as if he's ready to do a nightclub act in Vegas, not like a millionaire wintering in sunny Florida in 1929. His hair, a lovely silver gray, is cut and coifed in a modern style. Yes, he has beautiful hair for a man his age, but it's not 1929 hair. However, there is no doubt that Mr. Curtis has star magnetism. He comes on the stage literally beaming. He's charming and funny and the audience loves him. The show has been rewritten to specifically highlight his character adding another song for him. Mr. Curtis speak-sings his songs well enough and his acting ability carries them though. However, not having a musical comedy background, he looks ill at ease when any dance movement is required. When the girls surround him (and there are plenty of them) he's okay. But when he's left alone onstage in the middle of a dance number we get a little anxious for him -- as he looks like a man out of his medium.

Jodi Carmeli is totally luscious as Sugar, doing just enough of a "Marilyn" impersonation to give Sugar that Monroe flavor without being a slave to it. Her voice is sweet and strong -- a better singer than Miss Monroe ever was. What I appreciated most was her delicacy in playing the sex-bomb without coming off as a vulgar caricature. Arthur Hanket is macho and suave as Joe the Sax player and does a very funny "Kennedy" accent when he's impersonating the Shell Oil millionaire in order to win Sugar. (I couldn't tell if his accent was supposed to be Jack or Bobby and I don't think it mattered much -- we got the joke.) Mr. Hanket is a strong singer and a convincing actor and as the leading man should have had a little more to do.

Timothy Dulan as Jerry (cum Daphne) is extremely funny delivering reinstated dialogue from the film with his own classic delivery. He captures the zany, physicality of the character -- a man trapped in women's clothes, trapped in an all-girl band -- with all the fun originally intended by Mr. Wilder. And borrows only a gesture here and there from the late Jack Lemmon -- most notably the swinging of his maracas -- to great effect. Lenora Nemetz is sassy and brassy as Sweet Sue, Band Leader of the Society Syncopators, William Ryall is bizarrely menacing as the tap dancing Spats who kills his enemies with a "hop, shuffle, step, flap, flap, ball change" instead of bullets and Larry Storch wanders around the stage as the clueless Bienstock, the band's booking agent, looking like a myopic giraffe.

The vivid and playful sets by James Leonard Joy utilize a lot of painted backdrops. Necessity demands it for a road show if you're going to pack it all up with you, be in a different town the next day and unpack it all. The chorus costumes by Suzy Benzinger are wildly gay-colored and nicely detailed. Sugar wears two fabulous costumes that were recreated from the movie. A black feathery concoction when she's boarding the train for Florida and a pink sparkly number that makes her look like she's a naked Christmas tree. But the most famous dress that we all remember -- a pale, pink, flesh, netted gown with flower blossoms covering the unmentionables -- a totally scandalous dress that would be "The Beauty that Drives Men Mad" as one of the song titles goes -- was missed. With orchestrations by Michael Gibson and Philip J. Lang, the pit orchestra, loud and brassy, was duly appreciated in light of producers recently trying to cut back on live musicians.

I've been told that this reincarnation of "Sugar" is a lot more stageworthy than the original. The book is certainly funny enough, utilizing some of the best lines right from the original film script. The score by Jule Styne is tuneful with the most memorable songs being, "Doin' It for Sugar", "Penniless Bums"" and the torchy ballad "People in My Life". Unfortunately, there seem to be one too many chorus numbers which stop the action unnecessarily. You especially notice it when you're having a good time -- and a lot of this show is a good time. So, if you like a lot of cute chorus girls gadding about in flapper outfits, straight men dressing up like women, voluptuous heroines and old movie stars, there's something to like in "Some Like It Hot". Playing at the Playhouse until this Sunday, the show moves to Baltimore next week.

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