2005 Season

'Sugar' is back and how sweet it is


September 9, 2005

Attention producers: Book an investors night at Gateway Playhouse before it's too late. If there's one Broadway musical that's ripe for revival, it's "Sugar."

Never heard of it? That's the problem David Merrick faced when he bought the rights - but not the title - to the 1959 hit movie "Some Like It Hot." Premiering in 1972, "Sugar" was eclipsed at the Tonys by "A Little Night Music" and at the box office by "Pippin." But in 2002, a national tour brought new attention to neglected "Sugar" by appropriating the title of Billy Wilder's classic film comedy.

The set for that tour, designed by James Leonard Joy, now transports Gateway's cast from Chicago to Miami Beach in the chase that ensues when two musicians stumble into the middle of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. They elude the gangsters and hide by dragging their way into a touring all-girl band. As "Daphne" and "Josephine," the bass and sax player previously known as Jerry and Joe win the confidence of a lusciously lush blonde, Sugar Kane, who plays the ukelele when she's not falling for sax players.

Jerry/Daphne and Joe/Josephine, unforgettably played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, respectively, in the movie, may not find their comic matches in Larry Raben and Kirk Mouser, but then Lemmon and Curtis didn't sing and dance. And as a bowlegged redhead, Raben is a dead ringer for another Wilder, Gene, in drag. And just as funny, especially as he's swept off his feet by a rich, dirty old man lecherously played by Dick DeCareau. Mouser's receding hairline adds a literal highlight to his impression of a female saxophonist. And his mature look and straight-man comic chops stand him in good stead when he poses as a millionaire yachtsman to seduce Sugar.

In the role created by Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Stanley fills out amply as a sex goddess with an inferiority complex, belting out "The People in My Life" with a brassy vulnerability that might make you cry if you weren't laughing so hard.

Director-choreographer Scott Thompson shows his range, from big numbers that wow the audience, particularly the antic Act I closer, "Doing It for Sugar," and on spare tap routines, such as the rat-a-tat syncopation that gives the gangsters' machine guns their firepower. As executed by Jonathan Brody as Chicago capo Spats Palazzo, the tap exits become one of the show's comic signatures.

Musical director Fred Barton, along with costume designer Suzy Benzinger and coordinator Marianne Dominy, establish the show's winter-of-'29 crash period with a hot-jazz tempo and a still-roaring flamboyance, expressed in frilly exuberance by the dresses misworn by Messrs. Raben and Mouser. Sure, cross-dressing gets old after awhile, but not when it's "Sugar"-coated with real comedy and showstopping song and dance.

Broadway could do worse. And often does.

SUGAR: The Some Like It Hot Musical by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill and Peter Stone, based on "Some Like It Hot." At Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport, through Sept. 24. Tickets $32-$38. Call 631- 286-1133. Seen opening night Wednesday.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

Sugar: The Some Like It Hot Musical

The Gateway Playhouse wraps up its summer season with a stunner

By Gen Salamone

The Gateway Playhouse wraps up its summer season with Sugar: The Some Like It Hot Musical, based on the 1959 Billy Wilder film featuring Marilyn Monroe as Sugar.

This musical will raise your eyebrows while making you howl with laughter. Sugar is about two penniless musicians who stumble upon a gang murder. In an effort to save their own lives, they make a truly desperate move. The guys, Jerry and Joe, dress up as women to join an all girls band, their only ticket out of town and out of harm’s way…or so they hope.

Larry Raben and Kirk Mouser play the down-on-their-luck transvestites who join Sugar’s all girls band. Jerry and Joe both fall hard for Sugar, and their antics are downright hilarious. Both men are outstanding in their respective roles as “Daphne” and “Josephine”, although they aren’t very convincing (or pretty) women, making the show even funnier.

Jerry, played by Larry Raben, the goofy yet charming one, will have you laughing until your cheeks hurt. Kirk Mouser, as the tough but lovable Joe, is a bit hard to love at first, but endears himself to the audience toward the end, when it’s clear that there’s more to this guy than meets the eye.

Of course, the plot includes some great twists and throws in several quirky scenes that really make Sugar the hit that it is. The tap dancing numbers are fun – who can resist tap dancing gangsters? The actors are talented and a delight to watch. The intricate dance routines are timed perfectly and the steps are so in sync with the pit orchestra that at times I couldn’t differentiate between the two. Scott Thompson takes on the dual role of director and choreographer, and had his work cut out for him with some of these routines, but the combination of Thompson’s talent with that of the actors created perfectly executed dance sequences.

Elizabeth Stanley was phenomenal as the sultry and upbeat Sugar. I was fortunate enough to see Gateway’s performance of Aida with Stanley as Princess Amneris and I thought she was amazing in that role. Stanley outdoes herself this time, taking on the lead female role of Sugar Cane, the ukulele player who befriends “Daphne” and “Josephine”. Stanley’s voice is powerful and deep. When Stanley is on stage singing she commands the audience’s attention. Dare I say she outdid Ms. Monroe in this role?

Thompson’s direction of the actors was nearly flawless, although there were some opening-night mishaps that, instead of ruining the performance as some might expect, only confirmed the performers’ superb acting abilities – and added even more comedy to an already humorous show.

Sugar: The Some Like It Hot Musical is showing at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport now through September 24. Get your tickets for this hot and sweet show by calling 631-286-1133, visiting the box office in Bellport, or by going to www.gatewayplayhouse.com.

Sugar is oh so sweet

Gateway Playhouse’s final offering this season strikes the funny bone

By Brian Curry

I’ll say this for the costumes and wardrobe department at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport: I’ve never seen so much sexy silk, satin and frilly lace up on one stage, and some of it was even worn by women.

Yes, it’s Sugar, the last offering of the Gateway’s summer season. It’s the musical that attempts to give cross-dressing a good name, because like Peter Stone, who wrote the play’s book based on the 1959 hit movie Some Like It Hot that starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, said, “There are two guys everywhere in the world who want to get into a dress.”

Sugar, like Gateway’s last offering, The Full Monty, is a rarely thought of hidden gem, partly because it faced the same problem as Monty did when it ran on Broadway. Whereas Monty was eclipsed by The Producers at the Tony Awards, Sugar barely made a splash due to running side by side against A Little Night Music and Pippin on the great white way when it opened in 1972.

But don’t let that fool you. Sugar is top-notch from beginning to end, as Larry Raben and Kirk Mouser in the Curtis/Lemmon roles are hilarious playing off each other like any hit comedic duo that has been together for years.

Raben and Mouser have stumbled into witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day mob massacre and the only quick way out of Chicago is to impersonate women musicians playing in an all girl band heading to a gig in Florida.

The physical comedy, the witty double entendres, rib nudging songs and hapless leers give Raben and Mouser a dozen things to work with. That’s not including their campy transformation into women right down to their unmentionables or as Raben complains during one scene, “How come I have to wear the granny panties while you get to wear a slip?”

Even with Raben and Mouser’s flawless slapstick, the show belongs to “Sugar Kane,” otherwise known as Elizabeth Stanley. Stanley, who was so good in Gateway’s Aida earlier this summer, so eerily looks, sounds and acts like Marilyn Monroe right down to her “tee, hee” laugh that you’d think the ghost of Norma Jean Baker was up on stage.

That would be just an interesting side story if Stanley didn’t bridge the comedy, the vulnerability and the drop-dead sexiness of her role. In her “vulnerable” role she belts a heart breaking song “The People In My Life” that will leave you crying for her while marveling at the range and depth of her voice.

While the story is about these two men masquerading as women and one woman who can’t help but be all woman, the side players are all in great form as well. My scene-stealer award goes to a silly performance by a dirty old millionaire man brilliantly played by Dick Decareau that just happens to have his eyes (such as they are) on one of those masquerading gents, which doesn’t prevent the two of them from having a good time in a whirlwind…uh, romance?

Cyndi Neal as Sweet Sue holds the girls in line in admirable ways in much the same way as she did in last summer’s Gypsy, and Jonathan Brody as the only tap dancing gangster I ever knew leads his boys in some rapid fire tap dancing in their cross-country search for the cross-dressers. All in all, there was not a bad turn by anyone in the cast and it was a very funny, enjoyable night out.

Sugar is playing through Sept. 24 at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. For tickets or further information call 286-1133 or visit www.gatewayplayhouse.com.

Review: Sugar at the Gateway Playhouse

By Roy Bradbrook

You really have to have a lot of self-confidence to take Some Like It Hot, an iconic comedy film with a dream cast of two of the funniest and most processional actors ever in Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, plus the legendary Marilyn Monroe, and decide to turn it into a Broadway musical. Well, that is what David Merrick did. Sugar, the result of the music and words collaboration between Jules Styne and Bob Merrill, ran on Broadway for two years.

One of the reasons why Sugar is not one of the regularly revived shows must be due to the casting problems. You need two leading men who are good at comedy and also can sing and dance and just for good measure they have to spend most of the show dressed as women. Oh, I almost forgot, you also need a leading lady who is beautiful and capable of filling Marilyn’s shoes (as well as other parts of a lady’s underwear). So full marks to Gateway Playhouse Producer Paul Allan for having the courage to stage this as the last production of an eventful season and even higher marks to Casting and Artistic Director Robin Joy Allan for a simply superb job. Without exception this cast was excellent.

Kirk Mouser and Larry Raben, as the ‘male’ leads, had that wonderful synergy that is essential for really top class comedy duos and they both made very impressive, and almost believable, ladies. The beautiful Elizabeth Stanley, as Sugar Kane, spends a lot of her stage time in a partial state of undress and shows that she can measure up to Monroe in many important respects (she also have a much better singing voice but needs to work on softening her top notes).

If anyone does not know the story, it revolves around two out-of-work musicians in Chicago at the height of gangsterdom, who accidentally witness a mob killing and to escape from joining the ranks of the dead join the ranks of an all-girl band due to perform in Miami Beach. Close contact with Sugar naturally raises all kinds of emotions in both of them. Joe (Josephine), played by Kirk Mouser, switches genders frequently while trying to keep up his disguise but also while trying to persuade Sugar that he is a wealthy playboy. Meanwhile, Daphne (Jerry), played by Larry Raben, is kept busy fighting off the amorous advances of an aging and very wealthy playboy, Sir Osgood Fielding, stylishly played by Dick Decareau. Like all good comedies all is well by the end of the show though we are left wondering about Daphne’s fate!

While you are unlikely to go home whistling the tunes, the score works well, there are some good lyrics and the choreography by Scott Thompson, based on the original by the legendary Gower Champion, has some intriguing and hilarious moments. The best of these is the use of the tap dancing mobsters to produce the staccato machine gun noise and the death scene of their leader, Spats Palazzo, wonderfully danced by Jonathan Brody, has to be seen – it had the audience in hysterics. The ‘dance’ of the aging roués in their wheelchairs is not far behind in its comic effect. In fact the whole of the evening is one long laugh.

Cyndi Neal as the leader of the band, Dave Konig as the harassed manager and a wonderful ensemble, all make major contributions to the success of the show that runs until September 24th in Bellport.

Once again, the end of summer unfortunately brings an end to another Gateway season, one that the management can look back on with some pride. To offer shows as diverse as The Full Monty, 42nd Street and Aida, and, of course, Sugar, with casts and productions of Broadway quality and at prices a third of what you have to pay nowadays in Manhattan, is a wonderful benefit for all musical theater lovers on Long Island who will be eagerly awaiting news early next year of the 2006 offerings.

A Slam-Bang ‘Sugar’ at Gateway

By Lee Davis

Talk about buried treasures. Talk about good, old-fashioned, knock-em, sock-em ceaselessly funny and tuneful musicals. Talk about shows ripe for revival. Talk about all these and you will probably wind up talking about Sugar, the swell and sassy musical adaptation of Some Like It Hot, the merry movie with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Joe E. Brown that handily earned its title as one of the funniest motion pictures ever made.

Sugar is currently being given a tip-top, tappingly terrific production at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, and I advise you to run, or better, dance there right now. You’ll acquire an evening-long smile that just might last long after you leave the theater.

With a delightful score by Jule Styne, lightly literate lyrics by Bob Merrill, and a book by Peter Stone that captures and tailors terrifically for the musical stage the original Billy Wilder masterpiece, all this show needs is a top cast, set, costumes, lights and savvy musical direction. And the Gateway production has given it all of these, in brassy abundance.

In 1973, David Merrick’s original production of Sugar, starring Robert Morse and Cyril Ritchard and directed by Gower Champion, was buried at the Tonys by A Little Night Music and Pippin. Heavy competition, rife with experimentation, Sondheim and Fosse. Now, 32 years later, in the age of the jukebox Broadway musical, the solid virtues of Sugar shine. And they’re more than burnished in Bellport by director/choreographer Scott Thompson, who not only keeps the entire show forever aloft and charging forward at mach speed, but who has devised the most freshly inventive and wildly funny choreography seen at the Gateway in many a season.

From the dynamic opening number, “When You Meet A Girl In Chicago,” to a Busby Berkeley treatment of the Pullman car scene, “Sun On My Face,” to a wild and done with abandon “Doin’ It For Sugar” ending the first act, to dancing bows, there’s not a dull or borrowed moment. In the all-important scene in the first act when Joe and Jerry, the out of work musicians, unwittingly witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the gangsters, led by capo Spats Palazzo, played with a wild and woolly, fixed sneer by Jonathan Brody, charge on stage as a tap dancing troupe, the rat-a-tat of their machine guns conveyed in rapid fire taps. And for the rest of the show their hilarious entrances and exits are all similarly and wildly tapped.

There’s another production number that builds upon a similar but different production number in The Producers. I won’t spoil its impact by describing it, but suffice to say it will leave you in stitches. And on and on, and all of this executed by a terrific, smart stepping and comely dancing chorus.

Of the supporting players, Dick Decareau as Sir Osgood Fielding Jr., the Joe E. Brown role, is a shiny-pated merry millionaire buffoon, comfortably muting memories of the wide-mouthed comedian. The dynamic Cyndi Neal, best remembered for lighting the Gateway Stage as Mama Rose in Gypsy and Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street, limns a solidly hard-bitten, been around several blocks portrayal as Sweet Sue, the band leader who finally gets a chance to shine vocally in an Act II reprise of “When You Meet A Man In Chicago.”

Elizabeth Stanley, she of the figure with more curves than a roller coaster, brings the powerhouse voice and bodacious body she exhibited as the provocative Amneris in Gateway’s Aida to the role of Sugar Kane, which Marilyn Monroe so thoroughly filled. Ms. Stanley is lovely and lubricious, and is given the 11 o’clock number, a bluesy “The People In My Life,” which she delivered in full throated, show stopping fervor.

The two renegade musicians, Joe/Josephine and Jerry/Daphne, are, in this production, lovable and hilarious, carrying off their drag moments with exquisite timing and on the nose comic touches. As Joe/Josephine, Kirk Mouser, a veteran of Les Miz and Phantom Of The Opera on Broadway, has a rich baritone, which he uses to great effect, but he also has a comic sense and sensibility that works beautifully beside Larry Raben’s more wildly conceived Jerry/Daphne.

A veteran of The Producers, Mr. Raben brings that same madcap wackiness to his role as the redheaded, Sugar-struck bass player, cheerfully bested in love by the machinations of his sax-playing buddy.

Gateway producer Paul Allan scores a masterstroke by obtaining the James Leonard Joy-designed set for the latest 2002 road company (which starred Tony Curtis). It’s delightfully and creatively evocative of the twenties, as are Suzy Benzinger’s costumes: slinky and brief for the chorus, brief and more brief for Sugar, and foolishly frilly for Josephine and Daphne.

Fred Barton’s musical direction is flawless and dynamic. There hasn’t been a fuller, more spirited pit orchestra sound at the Gateway in a long time. And Marcia Madeira’s carnival lighting wisely enhances the whole operation.

So, if you want to end the summer and begin the fall with a smile on your face, I urge you to treat yourself to the boundless pleasures of Sugar. You’ll thank more than your sweet tooth. Sugar continues every night but Monday and several matinees a week through September 24 at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. The box office number is 286-1133.