Tony Curtis and the new touring company of Some Like It Hot — the revised version of the 1972 Broadway musical, Sugar — inaugurate the new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston as part of the Theatre Under the Stars season, June 4.
June 4 is not just the debut of the new performing arts facility, but it marks the first performance of the new tour. Curtis and Co. began rehearsals the week of May 6 in Manhattan toward the June 4 Houston launch of the 50-city national tour. Press opening in Houston is June 8.
Although Curtis is the headliner, the choice roles of Joe and Jerry go to Timothy Gulan and Arthur Hanket, respectively. They play the roles of Depression-era musicians who flee the Chicago mob in 1931 by disguising themselves as women in an all-girl band. Curtis and Jack Lemmon originated the roles in the Billy Wilder film comedy, "Some Like It Hot." This is Curtis' musical stage debut, at the age of 77.
Curtis now plays the Joe E. Brown movie role of aging millionaire Osgood Fielding III, who falls in love with "Daphne" (Jerry in drag) when the band books a gig in Miami. Joe (or Josie) has his eye on the comely blonde in the band, Sugar (played by Broadway Rent veteran Jodi Carmelli).
The producers and director-choreographer Dan Siretta have gone into the Jule Styne song trunk and given Curtis a gem for Act II: "I Fall in Love Too Easily," heard in the film, "Anchors Aweigh." "I want to make my Osgood frivolous, very extravagant," Curtis told Lillian Ross in a profile that appeared in the June 3 issue of The New Yorker. "Billy Wilder wanted a more graphic millionaire, with a lot of old millionaires in rocking chairs, not good for anything anymore. I want my Osgood to be freer, looser, more like a little kid playing."
Songs that were written for or cut from Sugar have been rethought and appear in the score (listen for "People in My Life" to be sung at the end of the show by Sugar). Both Styne and Merrill are gone now, but their melodies from the 1972 work linger on. In addition to "Penniless Bums," "Doin' It for Sugar," "When You Meet a Man in Chicago," "November Song," "Shell Oil"/"Hey, Why Not!," "The Beauty That Drives Men Mad," "Sun on my Face," "It's Always Love," "We Could Be Close" (all heard on the Sugar cast album) expect the lesser known title song plus "Magic Nights," "Runnin' Wild," "We Play in the Band," "Tear the Town Apart" and "People in My Life."
Lenora Nemetz plays Sweet Sue, the bandleader; Gerry Vichi is Bienstock, the band manager; William Ryall plays Spats, the mobster. The company also includes Scott Burrell, Bobby Clark, Timothy Joe Falter, Mark Adam (Spats' Thugs), Sarah Anderson, Jacqueline Bayne, Ashlee Fife, Brenda Hamilton, Pamela Jordan, Elise Molinelli, Heather Parcells, Elizabeth Polito, Marisa Rozek, Karen Sieber (Society Syncopaters), David Monzione (Toothpick Charlie), Derek Isetti, Ryan Migge (Toothpick Charlie's Gang), Gair Morris (Mechanic), and swings Todd Bradley Smith and Shannon Hudson.
Carmelli, playing Sugar, recently appeared as Maureen/Mrs. Cohen in Rent on Broadway. She was Sandy in a European tour of Grease and the Star to Be in the national tour of Annie.
Nemetz, the big-voiced Sweet Sue, is a protege of Bob Fosse, and replaced Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly in the original production of Chicago. Her other Broadway credits include Working (Drama Desk Nomination), Up in One With Peter Allen, The Rink and Cabaret, plus national tours of Sweet Charity, Bye Bye Birdie and Cabaret.
Hanket, playing Joe, has a slew of regional theatre credits under his belt: Prospero in Tempest (Austin Alliance); Wilde in Gross Indecency (Missouri Rep); Ford in Merry Wives of Windsor (San Diego Globe); Goring in Ideal Husband, Tom in Glass Menagerie and Pablo in Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Milwaukee Rep).
Gulan, playing Jerry, has been on Broadway in The Lion King and Blood Brothers, and has toured in such shows as Les Misérables, Carousel, Falsettos and Picasso at the Lapine Agile (Hungarian National Theatre). Regionally, he created roles in Houdini (Goodspeed), Adventures in Love (Ordway), Eliot Ness. . . in Cleveland (Directors Co./Denver Center) and Just So (Goodspeed-at-Chester).
The revised Sugar book is by Peter Stone (Titanic, 1776, The Will Rogers Follies and Woman of the Year).
Designers are James Leonard Joy (scenery), Suzy Benzinger (costumes), Ken Billington (lights). Lynn Crigler is musical director.
Director-choreographer Dan Siretta has been associated with film, Broadway, London, regional and corporate theatre. He spent 15 years as choreographer then as associate artistic director of Connecticut's Goodspeed Opera House, launching numerous productions that he directed or choreographed.
Some Like It Hot is the inaugural production to kick of Theatre Under the Stars' 2002 season at the new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston. A yearlong, 50-city tour follows. Diane Masters and Jeffrey Spolan are producing the tour.
Styne and Merrill wrote 75 songs for Sugar (they had previously collaborated on the hit, Funny Girl and the flop, Prettybelle) and Gower Champion directed and choreographed. Hopes were high in 1972 that Sugar might be a smash in the tradition Champion's Hello, Dolly! or Funny Girl. Robert Morse, Tony Roberts, Cyril Ritchard (in the role Curtis will play) and Elaine Joyce were the original stars. David Merrick produced. Morse and Roberts brought the house down nightly when they donned bosomy dresses to sing "The Beauty That Drives Men Mad." The show ran 505 performances, and had a score that was considered potent only in pockets. The second act was troubled.
Siretta said he and Stone have fixed the show and improved upon a London revival from 1992 that starred Tommy Steele (the late Merrill was not happy with the London version, Siretta said). Rights to the title, Some Like It Hot, were granted to that London staging 10 years ago and to this all-new staging.
In 1972, the powerful Merrick was not able to snag the title rights from MGM, which may be one reason the show isn't better known. Masters said nobody knows what a show called Sugar is about.
The hope is that the tour will end up on Broadway, producer Masters said.
Siretta says the orchestrations by Philip Lang remain a dream and "the nature of Styne's melodic line is masculine, it's powerful, it moves forward." Styne died in 1994, Merrill in 1998. Siretta said his goal as director-choreographer is to streamline the storytelling and make sure it has the comic pace and flow of the film.
"I'm trying to hold onto something that's impeccable about the film — the rhythm," Siretta said, adding that he's taking a cue from the late Merrill. "Bob liked to move things faster — to say it and move it along and get out of there."
Both the 1992 London revival cast and the original Broadway cast are preserved on cast albums.
Tour dates include Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh Nov. 27-Dec. 1, Portland Opera/Broadway in Portland, OR, May 6-11, 2003 and the Paramount Theatre in Seattle April 29-May 14, 2003.
The Hobby Center is a $90 million complex that houses two theatres (one at 2,650 seats and one holding 500). It is now the new home of Theatre Under the Stars and touring shows.
— By Kenneth Jones