Some Like It Hot is loved by many. The 1959 film is about two musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who escape Chicago gangsters by cross-dressing and high-tailing it to Florida, where they get pursued, respectively, by Sugar Kane (Marilynn Monroe) and Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).
While the movie was dubbed the greatest American comedy of all time by the American Film Institute, the musical that was based on it, Sugar, is decidedly lesser known despite having a score by the great Jule Styne, of Gypsy fame. Enter 42nd Street Moon, a company dedicated to such musicals, to remedy the situation in time for Sugar's 40th anniversary. The show began previews Wednesday and opens Saturday, starring Michael Kern Cassidy, Tony Panighetti, Riley Krull and Scott Hayes. We talked with Dyan McBride, director of the production, about Sugar's undeserved neglect and how Moon hopes to combat it.
What makes the Some Like It Hot story special?
It's a great script. It's tidy, it does what it needs to do, and it moves. It's got enough wackiness that you can stay with it, but it doesn't get so wacky that you get lost. And it's got such a powerful visual reveal when Joe and Jerry, the musicians, turn into women. It's a classic stage device and a humongous payoff.
How is the musical different from the movie?
Well, there's music. The gangsters who show up to do the Valentine's Day massacre, the reason that Joe and Jerry have to be on the run -- everything they do is through tap dance. It's pretty comedic because all of a sudden offstage you'll hear ta-tap ta-tap ta-tap. But with this version, the most important thing is that they changed the title from Some Like It Hot to Sugar. When you watch the movie, it's really focusing on Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. There, Marilyn Monroe comes in as Sugar Kane, and she's amazing and gorgeous, but the musical is really about the three of them.
How does the musical change the character of Sugar?
She's the catalyst for everything. Once Joe and Jerry have to flee Chicago, nothing would happen if Sugar weren't as fascinating as she is. What was not clear when we had the original version of this script -- we didn't know anything about her. She was more of a physical object than a fully realized person. And through two new songs -- "My Nice Ways" and "I'm Naïve" -- we find out what a dreamer she is. We find out all these bad choices that she's made with men, and I like to think in our version she has more of a reason for making bad choices. We find out that she comes from a small town, that she's not very worldly, that she lives in the world of movies and dreams and imagination. She has so many fun lines in the play such as, "Like Norma Shearer says..." She talks in movie talk all the time.
How did you find these songs?
This is what Greg McKellan, our artistic director, is so good at, working with the estates and finding this material. Over time, there have been four different versions of this show, and things have gone in and gone out. Greg just hunts things down; he knows all the versions of the show that have been done. Those are things that Moon does really well, and I think our audience expects it of us, to find things that are lost, put them back in, and reconstruct. It's the mission of Moon, to bring back these uncommon and lost musicals and let audiences hear them.
Tell us about your directorial approach.
When I do comedy, I'm concerned with making sure I'm dealing not only with stereotypes. I want my characters to have dimension. I want Joe and Jerry to have a real friendship. I want Sugar to have true vulnerability. I really want Osgood to want to be in love, and to love love, which is why he's been married so many times. So if I pursue those objectives like I would in a drama, but the stakes are comic, then I feel like there's something that rings more truthfully about comedy.
What is the music for Sugar like?
Written in 1972, Sugar really has one of the last Golden Age of Broadway scores. It has a lot of brass and woodwinds in the orchestration, but at the same time, you can feel us moving toward Sondheim. You can feel contemporary Broadway starting to come. When you hear "My Nice Ways," you can hear "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors. This is not a rock 'n' roll score; this is really a jazzy score. But you can start to hear things changing; there's a little bit of lounge, and you can hear some Bob Goulet. Even though people think Gypsy was one of the greatest scores ever written, I think Jule Styne doesn't really get his due. For that reason alone, this will be a great show for people who really love musicals and are interested in the history of musical theater.
Sugar begins previews April 4 and runs Apr. 7-22 at the Eureka Theater, 215 Jackson (at Front), S.F. Admission is $20-$50.