‘Some Like It Hot: The Musical’ Opens on Broadway

Some Like It Hot: The Musical has opened on Broadway to mostly positive reviews – you can read a selection here, highlighting the show’s strengths and weaknesses, and how it compares to the classic movie.

“Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot is about as perfect as a film gets, so it takes some serious maracas to try and tamper with it — not that it hasn’t been tried before.

The 1972 musical Sugar has been knocking around for the past few decades but hasn’t hit Broadway since its initial run, which garnered four Tony nominations. But with its theme of gender fluidity that snuck past the Hays code and unsuspecting audiences in 1959, Some Like It Hot feels ripe for a revisit.

The basic plot remains the same. Two jazz musicians, Joe and Jerry, witness a mob hit, they go on the run in drag, join an all-girl band, one of them falls in love with the saccharine Sugar Kane, the other gets hounded by love-sick millionaire Osgood Fielding III, hijinks ensue. The musical, however, moves the events from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, to 1933, in the waning days of Prohibition.

This time around, Joe (Tony winner Christian Borle) is white but Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee) is Black, as is Sugar (Adrianna Hicks) and the bandleader Sweet Sue (NaTasha Yvette Williams). And instead of Florida in the Deep South, the band heads to Hollywood, where the perpetually heartbroken Sugar hopes not to find a millionaire but to become a movie star. These changes open up the story but don’t hinder the narrative. This is a musical comedy after all and López and Ruffin keep things fast and loose, even when sandwiching social commentary between barbs.

The book has to do a lot of work in keeping the energy of the original in place while updating the world of 1933 for a 2023 audience, and it mostly succeeds. There are a few lines that didn’t quite hit, but that’s comedy, kids. You throw a bunch of jokes at the wall and see what schticks. But whereas the 1959 film plays coyly with gender, this production acknowledges that queerness existed alongside all those speakeasies and gin joints … Though it wears its heart on its sequined sleeve, Some Like It Hot never lingers too long in sentiment, which is necessary to keep the action going and the gin flowing.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Borle does triple duty as womanizer Joe, sax player Josephine, and shy German ‘screenwriter’ Kip, a performance requiring deft comedic timing, which he has in spades and spats. Ghee is luminous as Jerry/Daphne, standing who-knows-how-many-feet-tall in heels, kicking, tapping, and belting for the gods. Kevin Del Aguila was a true surprise, his rubbery performance as Osgood turning from comic relief to unexpected tenderness. And every time NaTasha Yvette Williams was on the stage as the acerbic Sweet Sue, she threatened to run away with the entire show.

Then there’s Adrianna Hicks who is, in short, a star. Remember those? Originating the role of Sugar, in her very capable hands, Hicks makes Sugar the next great leading lady of the musical comedy stage. She carries the emotional heft of the show, as Marilyn Monroe did in the film, with her two numbers ‘At the Old Majestic Nickel Matinee’ and ‘Ride Out the Storm,’ which also showcase both her vocal and dramatic range.

Some Like It Hot succeeds where Sugar didn’t by not trying to recreate the film, but rather capturing its essence. Wilder’s comedies were always a little dangerous, a little dark, often disguising hard, unspoken truths. But that edge is what makes the laughter that much sweeter.” – Lester Fabian Braithwaite, Entertainment Weekly

“The film is a raucous romp that derives a lot of pleasure from the fact that two big movie stars—Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon—were prancing around in dresses at a time when that was still considered over the top and subversive. In the RuPaul’s Drag Race era, when people around the globe know how to ‘Sissy that walk’—and when trans people are now heroes who stomp shooters with their heels—the musical’s two leads may be less shocking, but they are even more appealing.

The movie version also benefits from its Sugar Kane—the vampy chanteuse that Tony Curtis’s character (Joe) falls for, played by Marilyn Monroe at the peak of her gifts. Far more than a sexpot in a tighter dress than the guys, Marilyn cooed, sang, and played ukulele like the fine comic actor she was. No one could do a line reading better than her funny yet poignant declaration about her bad luck with men: ‘Story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.’

This musical doesn’t go for a Marilyn type—unlike the 1972 version, Sugar, which ran on Broadway for over a year—opting for a less woozy take on the character … As Sugar, Hicks is as starry-eyed and heartbroken in love as Marilyn’s version, but she brings it to a more grounded, less vampy level. Alas, Hicks’s emphatic facial gestures are wildly distracting, and it’s hard to understand Joe’s obsessive craving for her—a more exquisite Sugar would have sweetened the pot—though by the end, Hicks does belt out a sensationally bluesy ‘Ride Out the Storm,’ and even lands her punchlines.” – Michael Musto, Village Voice

“While still vulnerable, this new Sugar is not quite as fragile, naive or needy as Monroe’s, and Hicks makes her more of a real person and less a sexual goddess, though still full of allure. With Hicks’ fine vocals, this Sugar is clearly headed for a bigger and better career than fronting for a resort band.

Where the show disappoints is the score, even though the performances, arrangements and orchestrations are always top shelf. While the title song is smashing (and cleverly used in advanced promotion of the show), most of the rest of the tunes are merely OK, with lyrics that are often metaphorically tiresome and too on-the-nose. Sugar’s numbers, which should be captivating — and which Hicks delivers with all she’s got — are just generic.

One sometimes longs for the catchier Jule Styne/Bob Merrill score from Sugar, the first Broadway musical go-round for this story in 1972 — and even from the revised touring version from 2002 as Some Like It Hot, in which Tony Curtis took on the Osgood role.” – Frank Rizzo, Variety

“Sugar Kane 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 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.’

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 … 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 … Joe’s deception in seducing Sugar 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 humour adequately replaced in the musical … 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.” – Jonathan Mandell, New York Theatre

“In previews, complaints emerged, in the grimmer corners of the Broadway message boards, that the show was too woke for its own good. Wokeness merely refers to an awareness of systemic bias and injustice, past and present, which any revival or new adaptation should have. Here Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin have written Jerry/Daphne, Sugar and the bandleader Sweet Sue as shrewd expansions of the original. But in wanting to treat the comedy of men in dresses with greater care and sensitivity – a terrific goal in and of itself – changes the meaning of Some Like It Hot itself. The original, in its sophistication and ambivalence, is a celebration of disguise, of the quick wits, silver tongues and wild cheek that let Joe and Jerry juggle their multiple fictions. Yet in this version (as in López’s earlier play The Legend of Georgia McBride), drag becomes a means to self-acceptance, a beribboned road to truth. It’s scrupulousness that’s feted here, not the scam. Here’s the millionaire’s response to Daphne this time: ‘You’re perfect.'” – Alexis Soloski, The Guardian

“The wobbly quality of the new Broadway musical Some Like It Hot, which opened Sunday night at the Shubert Theatre, is made much more obvious by the indisputable greatness of its source material … Playing Sugar, Adrianna Hicks has a powerful voice, but Monroe’s je ne sais quois is missed. So much of the character, we realize, was Monroe’s iconic personality — and without it there’s not much left except the script not knowing what to do with Sugar’s drinking problem … The funniest people in the show, actually, are NaTashha Yvette Williams as Sweet Sue and Angie Schworer as the Society Syncopators’ manager of sorts. Kudos to them, but their prodigious skill and knack for a punchline underlines the lead actors’ lacking material.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

“At a time when so much trash crowds New York marquees passing itself off as entertainment, the new Some Like it Hot at the Shubert Theatre is a star-spangled, toe-tapping, show-stopping lollapalooza … Regrettably, I find Adrianna Hicks a less thrilling member of the cast. She sings so loud you can hear her in New Jersey, but without a personality to match, there’s a sameness to her numbers that is enervating. Through the years, truthful horror stories about Marilyn Monroe’s endless problems during the filming of Some Like it Hot that nearly drove Billy Wilder insane have reached mythic proportions (57 re-takes for a three-word line?), but among her many unimpeachable charms as Sugar was a ditzy glamour the role’s current occupant seriously lacks.

Still, why be churlish when so much of the show around her dazzles so brightly … What everybody did was sit down and figure out how to create, polish and revitalize the kind of joyous Broadway musical some people today might call old-fashioned but masses of others have been praying for. This is exactly what they’ve done with Some Like it Hot.” – Rex Reed, New York Observer

“It’s been more than 60 years since this caper — starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who disguise themselves as women to evade mobsters in Prohibition-era Chicago, and Marilyn Monroe as the singer and ukulele player one of them falls for — first tickled audiences. Attitudes about sex and gender have changed substantially over that time, and exponentially in recent years.

Yet it’s precisely by acknowledging shifts in the zeitgeist that librettists Matthew López and Amber Ruffin, lyricists Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw have made their stage variation of Wilder’s film fresh, clever, and briskly entertaining, all in spite of its inherent self-consciousness.

Race also figures prominently in this Some Like It Hot: Both Monroe’s character, the unlucky-in-love beauty Sugar Kane, and Lemmon’s, a double bass player named Jerry (or Daphne, in his drag alter ego) are Black here, and the discrimination they’ve faced is communicated both in punchlines and in more sober, pensive touches.

In one of the latter, a yearning ballad called ‘At the Old Majestic Nickel Matinee,’ Amber, played by a sweetly plucky Adrianna Hicks, whose robust singing voice can have the texture of velvet or gleaming brass, recalls sitting in a segregated section of her local cinema as a girl, imagining ‘that it was me up there/But with Mary Pickford playing my maid.'” –  Elysa Gardner, New York Sun

“Often cited among the best films ever made, Some Like It Hot is remarkably well suited to stage adaptation …  brimming with staples of midcentury musicals: a platonic odd couple of questionable moral standing, cross-country train travel, mistaken identity, showbiz, mobsters, jazz. Throw on some heat, a satisfying sprawl of head-spinning tap dance — a speciality of director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw … The show is also attentive to the discrimination its Black characters face while allowing them full liberty to thrive in its imaginative world, including Sugar as a bombshell frontwoman and Sweet Sue (NaTasha Yvette Williams) as the band’s ambitious proprietor. Both are among the production’s strongest assets, with Hicks belting her cheeks red and Williams casually landing some of the script’s biggest laughs. Ghee and Borle are fantastic on their feet as the Tip Tap Twins (turned trio, when Sugar joins them). And though the script doesn’t quite know what to do with Joe — a lone white male lothario surrounded by more evolved, and frankly more interesting characters — Borle proves why he’s the go-to for leading men who are slightly off and eke by on charm.” – Naveen Kumar, Broadway News

“Onstage, played by J. Harrison Ghee, the Jerry/Daphne character finds real euphoria in playing a female role, and they eventually embrace a non-binary identity, by way of a showstopping second-act number called ‘You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather’ that has Ghee belting to the rafters. The message is delivered heavy-handedly, maybe, but it’s not a bad one to get across.

That still leaves Joe, who disguises himself as Josephine and uses that cover to get all the closer to Sugar. The musical retains that plot, of course, but also keeps reminding the audience that Joe’s schemes are no good, and that ends up draining all the sex out of this sex comedy … The producers decided early on to cast a Black woman as Sugar, and the show modeled the character’s persona after Lena Horne. The storm metaphors abound in her songs, though Shaiman and Wittman, perhaps still haunted by the ghost of Marilyn from working on Smash, have written her an early solo that can’t help recall ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line’ (and then they kick off the second act by straight-up reusing Smash’s ‘Let’s Be Bad’—though, to be fair, that is just a fun song).

Hicks’s voice seems to contain an entire brass band, and she can pull off a key change with ease, though her best number is the relatively quieter ‘At the Old Majestic Nickel Matinee.’ It’s a melancholy monologue about falling in love with the movies despite the fact that ‘not one vamp or Wall Street wife/ Held up a mirror to my life,’ and it gives Sugar’s Hollywood dreams more motivation. The only problem is that, within the confines of the plot of Some Like It Hot, there isn’t much room for Sugar to act on those dreams.

These are all the sorts of calculations that you start to ponder after the fact, however, because in the moment, Some Like It Hot is working so hard in front of you … But somewhere amid all the careful noting and updating of the original, Some Like It Hot’s fire has been dimmed. It’s easier to note all the ways the show doesn’t do anything wrong than the ways it executes new ideas of its own. There’s only so much you can get from something so on the defensive about its own existence. Everything goes so smoothly that there’s hardly any friction at all—and you need friction to generate heat.” – Jackson McHenry, Vulture

“Borle’s Joe/Josephine feels lost, or maybe just not as precisely captured as Ghee’s Jerry/Daphne. He remains the grubbier schmuck of the duo, and instead of he and Ghee playing off one another, Joe and band leader Sweet Sue (the splendid NaTasha Yvette Williams) spar in a funny, performance-spanning joke about how old and frumpy he looks as Josephine, and Sue’s general, absolutely spot-on vibe that Joe/Josephine is a vexatious fly in everyone else’s ointment … Angie Schworer as Minnie, a character written into the show as a daffy assistant for Sue, wittily scoops laughs out of every line she has.

Sugar is oddly underwritten. This isn’t to compare Hicks’ performance to Marilyn Monroe’s, but rather question the rendering of her character. From the outset, Sugar knows everything, she wisecracks and whipcracks, she is nobody’s fool … It feels like there is no journey for the central female character to take because she’s basically fine from the outset … Monroe has such a vivid and varied canvas to play on in the movie, Hicks deserves the same. Her biggest laugh occurs near the end, with a perfectly delivered revelation around her identity, echoing the central theme of the show.

Still, whatever puzzles there are in story and character in the Broadway show are swept along by the wonderful dancing and music that keeps the show rattling along. Just when you feel the show is flagging, it pulls out a winner—either musically, visually, or a gag.

The best example of this is in the finale, as the Mob goons descend to finally find and kill Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne. Nicholaw has the entire company running, dancing, and prancing in a crazy blur in and out of doors, then on and off stage, concealing, revealing, popping in and popping out—a frenzied chase that goes on, bravely, a pretty long time and becomes all the more delicious for it. Instead of punches, Sugar and the female band dole out cries of ‘Zeep bap zeh bootlee atta’ to ward off the baddies.

At the end, one can only echo Spats as he’s dragged off to face justice. ‘You’re all wonderful dancers!’ he shouts. Our audience as one loudly cheered and applauded in agreement.” – Tim Teeman, Daily Beast

“Next to the jukebox musical, the Broadway genre getting and usually deserving the least amount of respect is that woebegone Frankenstein that starts life on the big screen only to have its parts jumbled and reassembled for the stage. The failure-to-success ratio of such attempts should keep any sane stage director as far from a movie house as humanly possible.

We’re all fortunate that Casey Nicholaw has ignored any such warnings, and has instead assembled a glorious new Some Like It Hot, a tap-dancing, razzle-dazzling embrace of everything to love about classic American musical theatre, Golden Age Hollywood and Broadway talent at the top of their games, all of it crafted with a 21st Century wisdom that knows what’s worth clutching from the past and what insists on a refresh.

In grand Shakespearean manner, the false identities lead to no end of confusions and ruses and revelations. Josephine falls head over very high heels for Sugan Cane (the incandescent Adrianna Hicks, here seeming less Marilyn Monroe than Josephine Baker, all the better). Sugar, who has a secret or two of her own, is devoted to her new bestie Josephine, but really has the hots for the traveling Viennese scriptwriter Kiplinger Von Der Plotz. Does it really need pointing out that Kip is Joe who is Josephine? (The movie’s Cary Grant impersonation used by Tony Curtis, by the way, is AWOL, replaced by cartoon Teutonic that works just fine).

Whether performing the songs in ensemble or solo – each of the principal performers gets at least one moment in the spotlight, and none disappoint, especially the powerhouse Hicks … Nicholaw’s choreography, like the score, borrows from here and there, now and then – mostly then – without seeming like pastiche or rip-off. You’ll see all the pre-War dance crazes you want, and they’ll look as fresh as if they’d never been done before, as if they’d been waiting all this time for Some Like It Hot.” – Greg Evans, Deadline

Some Like It Hot may be the first musical in which the utterly ridiculous secondary couple, Osgood and Daphne, is the one that earns our empathy. That’s definitely hot. What throws cold water over everything is how the primary couple, Joe and Sugar, remain chronically mismatched throughout the show.

In the movie, Sugar is out to marry a millionaire after having been left with the ‘fuzzy end of the lollipop’ by several saxophone-playing jerks. In the new musical, Sugar is out to become a movie star, which has nothing to do with all those former lousy lovers. That disconnect between the character’s goal (stardom) and her past (bad boyfriends) is a problem. In the movie, Monroe beguiles and wins our approval by trying not to repeat Sugar’s past mistakes with men. Sadder but wiser, she’s out to marry a millionaire. As played by Adrianna Hicks in the musical, though, Sugar now takes a bulldozer approach to achieving her dream — and seducing influential men is her game plan.

In recent seasons, Broadway hasn’t been kind to musicals based on movies that feature female drag, Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire being the two biggest misfires. Some Like It Hot approaches the drag issue in a profoundly different way. Here, it is not J. Harrison Ghee’s Daphne or Christian Borle’s Josephine who comes bedecked in the tackiest bejewelled gowns … No, that over-the-top performance comes courtesy of the show’s female lead. Hicks certainly has the vocal chops, but even here, she is sabotaged by the deafening sound design, which renders her vocals as if she were merely lip-synching in the best drag tradition. This Sugar doesn’t so much seduce Joe as she runs him over in her quest to be a movie star.

Regarding female drag, the movie and the musical handle it in drastically different ways. In Wilder’s classic, Tony Curtis makes for a passable female, while Jack Lemmon as Daphne is pure camp. In the musical, it is the reverse … As a choreographer, Nicholaw overuses tap to keep the show moving at a relentless pace that leaves the audience, not to mention the chorus, exhausted by intermission. In the movie, the three leads are members of an all-girl band. In the musical, they have to do double duty, and also perform as a tap-dancing trio. Never has more been way too much.” – Robert Hofler, The Wrap

“López and Ruffin have also reimagined the character of Sugar, whom Marilyn Monroe played as the kind of sweetly damaged sexpot that was her specialty: ‘Monroe gives perhaps her most characteristic performance, which means that she’s both charming and embarrassing,’ wrote Pauline Kael. As rendered by Hicks (who last showed off her mix in Six), the musical’s Sugar is more refined: She is young, gifted and Black, and she dreams of a mainstream career in Hollywood, though the odds of that happening in 1933 are negligible. But if this Sugar is no longer embarrassing, she’s not quite charming either; where Monroe’s version overflowed with personality, this one leans toward nondescript. Two of her three big songs start off as personal monologues then segue into performances that Sugar is giving onstage with her band. Are they her inner thoughts or not? It’s hard to know.

That somewhat impersonal quality is typical of the score that Marc Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman have provided for Some Like It Hot, which—though never less than polished and pleasing—also seems hidebound by formula. Shaiman and Wittman wrote the songs for TV’s Smash, and their work here suggests what that show’s show-with-in-a-show might have been like if, instead of being about Marilyn Monroe, it had been an adaptation of a Marilyn movie. (The song from Smash’s Some Like It Hot sequence, ‘Let’s Be Bad,’ even makes an appearance here.)” – Adam Feldman, Time Out

“Amid Scott Pask’s Art Deco-inspired scenic design and the parade of exquisitely detailed and sequin-bedazzled costumes by Gregg Barnes, Some Like It Hot strikes a poker at racial and gender inequities. And without anachronistically soap-boxing the issue, trans identity — free of trauma — takes centre stage.

From Tootsie to Mrs. Doubtfire, Broadway audiences have struggled with recent attempts to modernize drag tropes. Some Like It Hot has the benefit of two intersecting storylines that differentiate intent and identity … ‘From the 1940s onward, the idea of a man wearing a dress was the butt of the joke,’ INTO Editor-in-Chief Henry Giardina tells Queerty. ‘And since then, we’ve been primed for trans trauma narratives like Boys Don’t Cry. But Some Like It Hot has sustained appeal with queer audiences because it asks, ‘What if we were radically accepting? What if the world didn’t give a sh*t, gender and sexuality was fluid, and nobody cared? That’s what makes Some Like It Hot a famously perfect ending. Daphne gets to live the life she’s always wanted.’

Some Like It Hot is a rare commodity that delivers accessible, toe-tapping entertainment to the masses (if the masses can afford Broadway ticket prices) while proving that there’s room to recalibrate the narrative, ensuring a big-budget musical can also deliver big heart to a new generation of audiences.” – Matthew Wexler, Queerty

“This new musical comedy, a Big Broadway rewrite of the 1959 classic movie, Some Like it Hot, offers fabulosity: huge production numbers, flashy costumes, marvelous tap dancing, and many loud, brassy songs … What the show doesn’t offer is anything like the sophistication of the movie, and of course it doesn’t have Marilyn Monroe in all her gorgeous, braless vulnerability, as well as the masterful comedy of Tony Curtis in mock-Cary Grant mode and  the wonderful frenzied panic of Jack Lemmon. Rather than updating, the show has been downdated, giving audiences plenty of wholesomeness to cheer for, but missing the charm and wink and shock of its last line … Some of the songs are fun, some sentimental, with production numbers that sometimes go on too too long. Some Like it Hot a good time if you don’t mind spending a couple of hours in an irony-free zone.” – Toby Zinman, Phindie