It's not 'Hot,' but by no means coldBy JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2003
CLEARWATER -- Comparison is odious, as the saying goes, but unavoidable when it comes to Some Like It Hot, the musical now playing at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Since Some Like It Hot was such a great movie -- the best comedy ever, according to the American Film Institute -- a musical theater version does not seem to have much point, beyond serving as a somewhat improbable star vehicle for Tony Curtis, appearing onstage for the first time since he landed in Hollywood in the 1940s.
Curtis, of course, co-starred in the movie with Jack Lemmon as a pair of musicians who dress up in drag to avoid being killed by Chicago mobsters. They join an all-women band, whose singer is Marilyn Monroe, on a tour to Florida. The film is studded with deft character roles for George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O'Brien and Joan Shawlee (as bandleader Sweet Sue), as well as the wonderful performances of Curtis, Lemmon and Monroe.
Rarely, if ever, has a legendary movie been turned into a first-rate musical, and Some Like It Hot certainly doesn't go against such form, but it could have been worse. The cast has talent, and Dan Siretta's staging keeps things fun, including clever use of tap dancing to simulate tommy-gun fire.
Called Sugar (for the Monroe character Sugar Kane) when it debuted on Broadway in 1972, the show has a jazzy score by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, the team that gave the world Funny Girl. Peter Stone revised his original book for this tour, but he doesn't solve the inherent problem in such projects. The musical bogs down when it must remain faithful to the twists and turns of the movie's plot.
Curtis plays the Brown role of the old millionaire Osgood Fielding III. He doesn't make his entrance until well into the first act, when he comes out to talk-sing his way through November Song, an ode to how "even naughty old men need love." Never a song and dance man, Curtis recites lyrics like someone tiptoeing across a minefield, and his dancing is negligible, yet his performance has an eagerness to please that is genuinely charming.
Jodi Carmeli plays Sugar, and she looks the part in a sexy sequined dress. While her singing is fine in a conventional sort of way, it's not compelling enough to make anyone forget Monroe's rendition of Runnin' Wild in the film. Carmeli is at the center of a hilariously campy dance number, in which Sugar and blue-blazered chorus boys celebrate her chances of marrying into the Shell Oil clan.
Arthur Hankett and Timothy Gulan are Joe and Jerry, respectively, the cross-dressing musicians, doing their best to recall Curtis and Lemmon while not slavishly aping their classic performances. As in the movie, Jerry steals the show with his exasperated efforts to fend off the lecherous Osgood.
With its gangland story, Some Like It Hot owes a lot to Guys and Dolls, especially in the brilliant performance of William Ryall as Spats (the Raft role) and his tap-dancing hit men. Ryall, a lanky hoofer in a chalk-striped suit, is an electrifying presence in Tear the Town Apart.
As Sweet Sue, Lenora Nemetz seems a bit hard-eyed for the droll role, but her musicians are suitably fetching flappers in Sun on My Face and other dance numbers. Bienstock, the band's manager, is played by the old F Trooper Larry Storch (whose bio notes that he and Curtis served on the same submarine during World War II).
On opening night, Some Like It Hot went over well with the audience, which included many from Curtis' generation. They greeted him warmly at the curtain call as the treasured friend that he became in a lifetime on the big screen.
Some Like It Hot continues through Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Tickets: $35-$55. (727) 791-7400 or www.rutheckerdhall.com.
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