Curtis makes it hard to disguise show's charm

`Some Like It Hot' star isn't flawless, but there's still flair

April 10, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Audiences attending Some Like It Hot at the Lyric Opera House have the relatively rare opportunity to see two shows for the price of one. The first is a perfectly respectable touring production of this musical version of the famed 1959 Billy Wilder movie. The second could be called The Tony Curtis Show.

And, except for the fact that Curtis is appearing in - indeed, is the only star above the title of - the musical, these are, stylistically speaking, two distinctly different shows.

That's because Curtis, who makes his entrance one hour into the first act, is basically playing himself. Not, mind you, the self who portrayed Joe, the movie's male saxophone player in drag. This time Curtis is playing what is actually a supporting role, that of Osgood Fielding III, the millionaire playboy who falls in love with Joe's cohort in drag, Jerry-turned-Daphne.

With his gray hair in a style more reminiscent of Curtis' 1950s heyday than the Roaring '20s, when Some Like It Hot takes place, the star talks/sings his way, Rex Harrison-fashion, through three songs. (These include the Jule Styne standard, "I Fall in Love Too Easily," which has been added to this slightly revised 1972 Styne-Bob Merrill-Peter Stone musical.) Similarly, Curtis' dancing is more a matter of being led than leading, which makes his crack to Daphne: "You're leading again," particularly apropos.

The truth is, however, that Curtis' fans probably don't mind. They granted him - and the production as a whole - a warm standing ovation at the Lyric on opening night.

And, the rest of the show, and especially the three bona fide leads, are just fine. In case you've forgotten the movie's daffy plot, it concerns two male musicians who inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, then don drag and join an all-girl band to hide out from the mob.

Arthur Hanket plays the role Curtis created on film, Joe, who falls for Marilyn Monroe's ukulele-strumming Sugar. He's a suitably debonair stand-in who makes only one notably different acting choice; when Joe impersonates the scion of an oil fortune to impress Sugar, Hanket gives him a Boston Brahmin-JFK accent, instead of the Cary Grant imitation Curtis used in the movie.

The comic center of the production, however, belongs to Timothy Gulan's wacky portrayal of Jerry, the bass player who, transformed into galumphing Daphne, suddenly finds himself the object of Osgood's affections. Just watch the fun Gulan has horsing around with a pair of maracas - playfully bopping Curtis on the backside, then holding them like a wedding bouquet.

Jodi Carmeli also fares adorably in the Monroe role. Although her Sugar is less of a ditsy bombshell, Carmeli compensates with a richer singing voice. As the band's manager, however, Larry Storch is too corny, even for this broad material.

The choreography by Dan Siretta (who also directed the show) feels formulaic, with one clever exception, albeit borrowed from Gower Champion's 1972 staging. When William Ryall, as the wonderfully lanky and cadaverous gangster, Spats Colombo, and his gang start mowing down folks with their Tommy guns, the sound and fury is supplied by the rat-a-tat-tats of the gangster's tap shoes.

James Leonard Joy's scenery and Suzy Benzinger's costumes - in both cases done up in grays and blacks for the Chicago scenes, and in pastels for the band's gig in Miami - also add to the production's comic flair.

Back in 1972, this musical version of Some Like It Hot was called Sugar because the rights to the movie's title weren't available. Presumably the title song was dropped for the same reason. Now it's back, but only in the finale, which is unfortunate since it's the catchiest number in the score.

Curtis, incidentally, is the movie's only surviving star, and - entertaining as this revival may be - the chance to see him in a stage version of Wilder's classic cinematic comedy should probably be viewed more as an event than anything else. Even so, it helps to keep Osgood's final punch line, "Nobody's perfect," in mind.

Some Like It Hot

When: 8 p.m. tonight-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

Admission: $26.50-$64

Call: 410-481-SEAT

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