Wednesday, March 22, 2023

A Doll’s House (Hudson Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

A production of Henrik Ibsen’s classic devoid of scenery, period costumes, and props hardly seems a prospect to set the heart racing. And yet, for all of that, director Jamie Lloyd’s production rates as one of the most gripping I’ve seen. 

This is a highly colloquial version by Amy Herzog (perhaps too colloquial at times as when Nora drops an f-bomb). It's performed on a dimly lit stage with voices cannily amplified by sound designers Ben and Max Ringham to a foreboding score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, all to highly compelling effect. In Lloyd's mesmerizing staging rather like a radio play, you are thus guided to listen to Ibsen’s ever-suspenseful story even more intently. 

Jessica Chastain’s Nora Helmer, seated through most of the intermission-less evening, is a triumph. She surpasses her first Broadway outing in “The Heiress.” Not entirely likable in this interpretation, at least at the start, Nora registers as boastful, vain, self-centered, materialistic, and callous. All these traits are suggested in the original text, but are boldly heightened here. Still, as the play progresses, and Nora’s secret crime (forging a signature for a loan to restore her ailing husband to health) threatens to be exposed, she earns our sympathy and the final break from her husband Torvald (staged in a rather thrilling coup de theatre which is completely apt) is powerful as ever.

Arian Moayed is as patronizing and sexist a Torvald as we’ve seen, coolly superior to Nora until he explodes volcanically after learning of Nora’s actions. As Krogstad, the money lender who threatens to expose Nora if she doesn’t prevail upon her husband to save his position at Torvald’s bank, Okieriete Onaodowan is quietly powerful, and plays the role in a far more sympathetic manner than I’ve seen before. His scenes with Nora are strikingly staged with the two of them sitting back to back, as she tries to resist his entreaties. Again, their voices propel the scene. As Krogstad’s old flame, and Nora’s friend, the widowed, impoverished Kristine, Jesmille Darbouze projects quiet strength and resolve.  

Michael Patrick Thornton, last seen here in the misguided Sam Gold “Macbeth,” makes an outstanding Dr. Rank, and his crucial scene with Nora -- rife with sexual undercurrent -- is beautifully played. And Tasha Lawrence rounds out the superlative crew as nanny Anne-Marie. (In this stripped down version, we don’t see the three Helmer children, nor the maid Helene.)

My only quibble with the production was Jon Clark’s low-lighting level which, though effective for the aforementioned reason, needed just a couple of notches more illumination. 

No one would want this interpretation to be the template for all future productions of the play. And I have comparably fond memories of fully staged mountings including Janet McTeer’s 1997 Broadway turn, and a fabulous 1982 RSC Adrian Noble production in London with Cheryl Campbell and Stephen Moore, to name just two.

This is, needless to say, a great play, and, in the right hands, rarely fails to make an impact. On this occasion, Herzog and Lloyd have done the play especially proud, presenting it with renewed relevance and immediacy.

(Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street;; through June 10)

Photo Courtesy of A Doll’s House:

(I.-r.) Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Becomes a Woman (Mint Theater Company)

By Harry Forbes

Broadway musical buffs may recollect Betty Smith’s name on the cover of the cast album as co-librettist of the 1951 musical, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (based on her international 1943 best-seller). But that, in fact, was to be her only Broadway credit. And yet, Smith was apparently a prolific playwright who prized the dramatic field above all others, turning out around 70 plays. Several won prestigious prizes, but none of them received professional productions. 

Just how dedicated she was to the genre is apparent in Mint Theater’s absorbing production of her 1931 play which won the University of Michigan’s renowned Avery Hopwood Award.

The play’s protagonist shares the name of the central character of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Francie Nolan, but there all similarities end. This Francie, impressively played by Emma Pfitzer Price in her Off-Broadway debut, works in a Kress five-and-dime-cent store in Brooklyn as a song plugger at the sheet music counter. A steadfastly virtuous 19-year-old who resists the myriad flirtations of the male customers much to the amused disdain of accompanying pianist Florry (entertaining Pearl Rhein with a Louise Brooks bob) who has far fewer scruples.

But when good looking, upper crust Leonard (Peterson Townsend), the son of the Kress chain’s chief (Duane Boutté), asks her out for a date, she finally lowers her guard and relents.

In the second act, we meet Francie’s lower middle-class family -- boorish policeman braggart of a father (forceful Jeb Brown), pious mother (Antoinette LaVecchia really nailing the character), tactless brothers (Tim Webb and Jack Mastrianni) -- when she brings Leonard home to meet the folks, with (slight spoiler) disastrous results. 

The color-blind casting of Leonard here rather requires some temporary suspension of disbelief, as Pa Nolan makes it patently clear before Leonard walks through the door that he expects any fella Francie brings home to be Irish Catholic. As it happens, the whole family treats Leonard with amusingly fawning deference as it seems they’ve never had a well-bred gentleman in the house before.

Without revealing any plot specifics, in the third act, let’s just say that Francie shakes off her shy passivity and comes to full maturity, living up to the play’s title. 

The humorous tone of the first act -- with Price skillfully warbling a handful of songs, most especially Jerome Kern’s “Left All Alone Again Blues'' from “The Night Boat” -- and engaging in light banter with the other shopgirls, gives way to some pretty heavy kitchen sink melodrama in the second (actually, quite literally, as it takes place in the Nolan kitchen), and then a serious and sobering third. Smith’s dialogue has the ring of veracity, and her feminist perspective is highly persuasive throughout, even if some of the plot turns challenge credulity. 

Vicki R. Davis’s sets -- the colorful Kress Dime Store of the first act (which a program note is careful to assure us is purely fictional in all respects as the real-life Kress chain never even had a Brooklyn store), and the Nolan’s tenement kitchen in the second -- are beautifully realized on the Mint’s modest budget. Likewise, Emilee McVey-Lee’s costumes are period perfect.

Under the assured direction of Britt Berke, Price’s highly committed central performance makes us really care about Francie’s plight, and overlook some of those script improbabilities. Her transition from the passive girl of the first act to assured woman in the third is truly outstanding. And there’s marvelous work from Gina Daniels -- likable and warm -- as Francie’s workmate and neighbor Tessie, Jason O’Connell as the good-hearted ambulance driver who’s sweet on Tessie, and Boutté as Leonard’s slickly unflappable father who shares some important moments with Price in the final act. 

(NY City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street;; through March 18)

Photos by Todd Cerveris:

(Top)(l.-r.) Townsend, Price

(Below)(l.-r.) Price, Daniels, Brown, LaVecchia

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Red Mill (Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!)

By Harry Forbes

This is VHRP Artistic Director Alyce Mott’s fourth go-round with Victor Herbert’s popular musical comedy -- originally a vehicle for the great vaudeville team of Montgomery & Stone -- and why not? It is, after all, the longest running of all Herbert’s shows. It ran for an impressive 318 performances back in 1906, and the 1945 revival ran even longer tallying 531 performances.

Even now, it’s still mightily entertaining, with showstoppers like “The Streets of New York” and “Every Day is Ladies’ Day with Me” as potent as ever. 

Mott’s version is a streamlined one. At the late Dino Anagnost’s Little Orchestra Society production (2007), it was basically a concert version with narration; Light Opera of New York’s expanded that edition in 2010; and her two with VHRP (the last in 2017 and now this) showed further refinements. Unlike the last, this one has orchestral accompaniment, a huge plus. Seven fine instrumentalists, including the superb William Hicks on piano, played a stylish reduction of the original orchestrations under the commanding leadership of the company’s musical director Michael Thomas. The tuneful overture set the apt period spirit, and was all the more charming for its chamber-like quality.

Mott’s libretto makes concessions to modern sensibilities and the size of the company, 16 in all. As before, the characters of soubrette Tina and innkeeper Willem are gone. Tina’s songs were delivered by the romantic lead Gretchen (Sarah Caldwell Smith, repeating her 2017 role) and Berta (formerly Bertha), Gretchen’s aunt (Alexa Devlin). 

The basic storyline remained intact. The setting is Holland. Gretchen loves sailor Dori (originally called Doris)(Andrew Klima), but her father, the Burgomaster (solid David Seatter, a VHRP founding artist) insists on an advantageous marriage to the Governor of Zeeland (Colin Safley). Two penniless Americans, Con Kidder (Vince Gover)  and Kid Conner (Andrew Buck), assisted by Berta, try to assist the lovers, especially after Gretchen is locked in the eponymous mill and Dori is tossed into jail by the Burgomaster. Eventually, the comic duo saves the day by impersonating Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. An auto accident involving a French noblewoman (impressively authentic Sarah Bleasdale) and a British solicitor (well cast Jonathan Fox Powers) add a bit more subplot. 

The plot machinations are pretty silly, even in this condensed form, but musically, the show offers one catchy tune after another without a weak link. Some songs lost a verse or two, and a couple were missing altogether, but only real buffs would notice, and it was still a satisfyingly full evening of music which generated warm audience response throughout. 

I couldn't help but recall late Herbert champion Frederick Roffman’s memorable production which not only included every number of the published score, but also cut ones like Willem’s “I Ring the Bell,” and even a couple of rare interpolations from other works. For all of Roffman’s genuine scholarship, he was no purist and employed a revised script with some new lyrics and, like Mott, changed the order of the songs, and distribution among characters to suit those revisions. 

In Mott’s rewrite, the female characters are given more agency than previously, and the male side suffers a bit. Dori, ostensibly the romantic hero, is fairly ineffectual. But Klima’s vocals were ringingly strong and impressive. 

Devlin’s rich vocals, incisive diction, and dramatic prowess were impressively on display. She set the evening’s tone with her authoritative delivery of the opening “Legend of Mill,” originally a second act number, but then reprised it in the second act anyway. She also duetted delightfully with Smith on the rarely done “I’m Always Doing Something I Don’t Want to Do.” But it’s a pity “A Widow Has Ways” has been cut, as she would no doubt have sung it superbly. 

The VHRP audience may not have been exactly "convulsed with laughter " as the 1906 audiences were said to have been by Montgomery and Stone, but Gover and Buck were likable and amusing as the comic leads, and their joyous “Streets of New York” number was infectiously performed (in tandem with Smith and Klima). The show-stopping “Good-a-Bye John,” a huge hit in the original production, was missing, perhaps as much for today’s ethnic sensitivities as for its complicated authorship. Herbert was virtually duped into writing the tune hummed to him by Montgomery & Stone, who wanted another number “similar” to something they had done before. The team didn’t reveal to Herbert that what they were quoting to him was, in fact, an existing piece.  

Smith, pretty in pink, sweetly vocalized the score’s famous “Moonbeams,” pairing nicely with Klima there and elsewhere.

Safley, a much younger Governor than usually the case, delivered his “Every Day is Ladies Day” entrance number with firm voice and great panache, while Alonso Jordan Lopez, Justin Chandler Baptista, and Keith Broughton camped it up jovially as the “ladies.” Safley's subsequent duet with Devlin was another highlight.

Veterans David Seatter and tenor John Nelson as sheriff Franz -- each with impressive and lengthy operetta credits in their CVs -- strutted across the stage like the seasoned pros they are in a delightful vaudeville turn for “You Never Can Tell About a Woman.” 

The ensemble of six (Sophie Thompson, Paige Cutrona, and Annie Heartney along with Lopez, Baptista, and Broughton) were an invaluable asset throughout, providing strong choral support, while playing the inn’s artists and models and other characters along the way. 

Mott directed her cast very capably, and this production was, in fact, her best staged of the three productions VHRP has done at its new larger venue. Christine Hall devised some cute choreography for the numbers that required it such as “Always Go While the Goin’ is Good.” 

Back in 1906, the New York Dramatic Mirror In its review declared, "there is nothing dull about it, not a moment when the audience shows weariness, not a song or a tune that will not bear repetition…it is a steady, satisfying work. "

As delightfully shown by VHRP’s small-scale but accomplished revival 117 years later, that assessment still holds resoundingly true..

Coming up next: an expanded version of Herbert’s very rare ‘Cyrano de Bergerac” (April 25-27).

(The Theater at St. Jeans, 170 E. 76th Street;; February 21-23)

Production photos by Jill DeVine

Archival photos from the Collection of John Guidinger

(Top to bottom)

"Whistle It" with Andrew Buck (Kid), Sarah Caldwell Smith (Gretchen), Vince Gover (Con)

David C. Montgomery and Fred A. Stone

The New Victor Herbert Orchestra and Maestro Michael Thomas, 2nd from bottom on the Left

Scene from “The Red Mill” 1906

"The Legend of the Mill" related by Alexa Devlin (jBerta) to the Villagers

"The Streets of New York" with Andrew Buck (Kid) & Sarah Caldwell Smith (Gretchen);  Andrew Klima (Dori) and Vince Glover (Con)

Andrew Klima (Dori) surprises Sarah Caldwell Smith (Gretchen) with his return

"Everyday Is Ladies Day With Me" with L-R: Keith Broughton, Colin Safley as Governor, Alonso Jordan Lopez, Justin Chandler Baptista

"You Never Can Tell About A Woman" with L-R:  David Seatter as the Burgomaster and John Nelson as the Sherriff

The Company

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Pictures from Home (Studio 54)

By Harry Forbes

The solid performances of Nathan Lane, Zoë Wanamaker, and Danny Burstein are the most striking points of interest here. The play itself -- Sharr White's adaptation of Larry Sultan's pictorial memoir of the same name -- is, sorry to say, somewhat less than compelling.

I must confess I took my seat with absolutely no foreknowledge of what I was about to see. Nor, I'm ashamed to admit, had I even glanced at the title page of the Playbill where I would have learned that what I was about to see was based on the aforementioned source material. So I watched the play under the mistaken notion it was entirely a creation of the playwright. 

And from that point of view, I found it only intermittently engaging, and oddly repetitive. The action centers on photographer Larry (Burstein), who lives in San Francisco with his wife and family, and his frequent periodic visits to his aging parents in their San Fernando Valley home, capturing them in staged portraits while interviewing them about the past. The photos, including many from his childhood, are projected on the back wall. (The Sultans had moved from Brooklyn to California in 1949.)

Irving Sultan (Lane), the father, a former Schick razor salesman, is alternately compliant and ornery about his son's purpose. Realtor mother Jean (Wanamaker) is skeptical but overall more agreeable as she also tries to mediate between father and son.

The photographs displayed are, as I figured out later, the actual Sultans. In my initial ignorance, I assumed they were just anonymous models so that the production would not be reliant on the current cast. Knowing the facts makes things somewhat more interesting to me in hindsight.

Larry Sultan, who died in 2009, had said “I wanted to puncture this mythology of the family and show what happens when we are driven by images of success. And I was willing to use my family to prove a point.”

White has done his best to give a somewhat repetitive situation a viable dramatic arc. And, along the way, there is a lot of wit and home truths about family and the American Dream ideal of what success was supposed to look like in postwar America. There are even some interesting Willy Loman-like overtones to Irving’s backstory. And there’s real conflict when we learn that Jean has, in fact, been the virtual breadwinner since Irving stopped working. But even so, a certain tedium sets in.

White’s script gives Lane plenty of opportunity to shine including a powerful dramatic outburst at one point. And we’re so accustomed to seeing American-born but UK-raised Wanamaker on her customary English turf, that it’s quite a novelty to see her as in this very American part which she carries off with customary aplomb. She matches Lane’s strong performance, and also gets her big moment amidst all the finely detailed smaller ones. Irving and Jean’s bickering throughout the play sounds wonderfully natural.

The very versatile Burstein, a mainstay of musicals, is predictably excellent, but Larry is a rather thankless role and we soon empathize with Irving's annoyance at his son's relentless probing. The play is constructed so that Danny breaks the fourth wall (as do the others occasionally) and takes the audience into his friendly confidence but the overall effect is still a bit smarmy.

Michael Yeagen’s set (astutely lighted by Jennier Tipton)  -- the couple's spacious living room -- encompasses the different eras of the play’s action, and allows plenty of space for the giant projections throughout. Jennifer Moeller’s period costumes are enhanced by Tommy Kurzman’s wig/hair and makeup which includes a white wig for Lane. 

There's understated poignancy in the final minutes of the play, and Bartlett Sher’s direction is as impeccable as ever, but I wish I could have been more genuinely moved.

(Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street;; through April 30)

Photo by Julieta Cervantes:

(l to r): Danny Burstein, Zoë Wanamaker, and Nathan Lane

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Collaboration (Manhattan Theatre Club)

By Harry Forbes

Playwright Anthony McCarten, who’s written solid screenplays based on real-life personages (e.g. “The Two Popes” (Benedict XVI and Francis), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Freddie Mercury), “The Theory of Everything” (Stephen Hawking), and theater pieces like the current Neil Diamond bio, “A Beautiful Noise,”  turns his pen to the art world and the unlikely seeming pairing of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat who, in 1985, joined forces for a well-publicized art show suggested by the Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger who represented both of them. 

The play, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Old Vic,  comes to MTC after a successful run at the London venue.

The conflict between the two artists is not, frankly, hugely compelling, despite McCarten and Kwei-Armah's efforts. On the one hand, there’s Basquiat trying to persuade Warhol, who had not been brush painting for years (using the silk screen process instead), to pick up his brushes again, And, on the other, there's Warhol who's infinitely more interested in filming the reluctant Basquiat at work. There’s more drama in the second act than the first, when Basquiat’s former girlfriend (the excellent Krysta Rodriguez in a small but lively role) bursts in needing money for rent and an abortion, and a friend of Basquiat’s, Michael Stewart, a fellow graffiti artist, lies near death in the hospital after being pummeled by police. Basquiat is deeply haunted by the thought that it could just as easily have been him.

There’s some understandable dramatic license in his script. For one thing, each of the men knew and admired the other, whereas the script has it that Bischofberger (a very amusing Erik Jensen) needed to use all his skills of manipulation to get the two to work together. Basquiat craved fame and recognition as much as Warhol, though there’s a sense in the script that he disdains Warhol’s commercialism. Still, the fundamental dynamics between Warhol and Basquiat ring true: respect mixed with envy on Warhol’s part, and a vastly different world view. 

Of rather greater import than the narrative of the play itself are the dynamic performances of Bettany and Pope. Bettany grows more interesting with each new project; he’s developed into such a fine character actor, and gives a highly convincing impersonation of Warhol. Pope is currently generating well-deserved buzz for his film, “The Inspection,” and here returns to the scene of his Tony-nominated MTC triumph in “Choir Boy,” with a highly charged turn. These versatile actors are reason enough to see the play. 

Anna Fleischle’s sensible set design, flashily lighted by Ben Stanton -- including the artists’ studios -- allows for Duncan McLean’s Basquiat/Warhol-inspired projections to fill the walls.  Given Warhol and Basquiat’s unique hair styles, I should acknowledge the good work of Karicean “Karen” Dick and Carol Robinson, the production’s wig designers. 

Lastly, a sidebar carp: this is the latest in an unfortunate trend of the audience entering the theater to an assault of loud music -- or, in the case of “Ohio State Murders” -- other amplified sounds. Whether the purpose is scene-setting -- in this case, a Studio 54 vibe -- or creating an immersive experience, it’s a needlessly abrasive and alienating gimmick. “Topdog/Underdog,” “Ain’t No Mo’,” and even the Public’s revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” for heaven’s sake, have all recently employed this irritating device. 

(Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street; or 212-239-6200; through February 11)

Photo by Jeremy Daniel: (l.-r.) Paul Bettany, Jeremy Pope

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Merrily We Roll Along (New York Theatre Workshop)

By Harry Forbes

The latest revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 Broadway failure proves, yet again, that the work, adapted by George Furth from a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, is -- divorced from Hal Prince’s original misguided staging with its hugely talented but as-yet-unseasoned cast of young people wearing sweatshirts -- an eminently viable one, with a pearly and highly accessible score. 

New York Theatre Workshop’s production is essentially a reworking of the one director Maria Friedman mounted in London’s Menier Chocolate Factory (later moved to the West End and streamed) in 2012. Here, it’s ideally cast with Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez as the three bosom buddies -- composer Franklin Shepard, playwright/lyricist Charley Kringas, and novelist/theater critic Mary Flynn respectively --  whose deep friendship ends in tatters because of composer Frank’s selling out for success, and his weakness for the femme fatale wife Gussie (Kyrstal Joy Brown) of his producer Joe Josephson (superb Reg Rogers).  

Of course, as the script moves backward in time -- with its score cleverly constructed in like manner so that reprises of songs come before we hear the full number -- the acrimonious and downright ugly outbursts of the opening scene give way to the joyous optimism of youth. And the show does perforce end happily, even as we’re poignantly aware of what’s fated for the future.

Groff sings beautifully, but every bit as impressive as his vocalizing is his mature dramatic performance, displaying impressive gravitas throughout and youthening convincingly from the shallow Hollywood power player to the idealistic dreamer of the earlier scenes. 

The same is true for Mendez whose vitriolic drunken outburst in the early party scene gives way to the empathetic, hugely likable friend who inwardly pines for Frank. But Frank, in turn, will fall in love with Beth (Katie Rose Clarke), and then abandon her for Gussie. 

Radcliffe goes from strength to strength with each new stage appearance. After his starring role in “How To Succeed in Business” revival in 2011, it’s no surprise he can sing but here, he convincingly captures the likability and snowballing frustration as he helplessly watches Frank repeatedly make the wrong choices. He forcefully nails the anger of his raging “Franklin D. Shepard” number. 

Now truthfully, every one of the revivals I’ve encountered since the premiere -- York in 1994, Encores in 2012, and Fiasco in 2019, and even an early barebones basement production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival -- has demonstrated the show’s dramatic and musical strengths. But good as they all were, this one may be the best of all, anchored as it is by such a well played depiction of Frank, Charley, and Mary’s friendship. It makes their eventual dissolution all the more of a gut punch.

Friedman, who played Mary in the 1992 Hampstead Theatre production in Leicester, clearly knows the material inside and out, and directs with a sure hand. 

Soutra Gilmour’s set design is mostly functional for the myriad scene changes) but, augmented by Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting, it works effectively. Gilmour’s costumes are period perfect as the action backtracks from 1980 to 1958.

Music Director Alvin Hough, Jr. leads a nine-piece band in a satisfying reduction of Jonathan Tunick’s orchestration, boosted by Kai Harada’s sound design.  (Catherine Jayes is music supervisor.) The big numbers like “Good Thing Going,” “Not a Day Goes By,” “Our Time,” and “Old Friends” all receive splendid treatment, and the lesser known ones such as “Growing Up,” “It’s a Hit!” and “The Blob” play more effectively than ever. 

The coming Broadway transfer of this sterling revival will perhaps put to rest once and for all any notion of the show being in any way Sondheim’s problem child. 

(New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street;; through January 22)

Photo by Joan Marcus: (l.-r.) Lindsay Mendez, Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Some Like It Hot (Sam S. Shubert Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

The 1972 Jule Styne-Bob Merrill musical “Sugar” -- based, like the current offering, on Billy Wilder’s riotous 1959 film -- had its pleasures, but truthfully the score was not top drawer for either gentleman. Still, thanks to the amusing performances by Robert Morse, Tony Roberts, and Cyril Ritchard and Gower Champion’s slick direction, it eked out respectable runs here in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Tommy Steele headed a 1991 UK revival with a revamped script and playlist.) A domestic revival with the film’s Tony Curtis playing millionaire Osgood Fielding, Jr. got some traction in 2002.

But the new version -- with its tuneful 1930’s pastiche score by the “Hairspray” team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman -- is a crowd-pleasing winner all the way. With a wonderfully astute book by Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin, which cleverly skirts any current wokeness pitfalls, but does so in a refreshing, understated way, this version comes out way ahead. 

Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw keeps things moving and dancing non-stop, faltering only in a protracted chase sequence near the end which simply goes on too long. And the diverse cast creates their own magic. 

Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee are Joe and Jerry, the Prohibition era musicians who don drag attire to avoid the mob boss (Mark Lotito) who knows they witnessed a rubout (though not, as in the original, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre). They join the all-girl band led by Sweet Sue (a show-stopping Natasha Yvette Williams). 

Joe (now Josephine) falls hard for Sugar (the Marilyn Monroe character now embodied by the appealing Adrianna Hicks who makes the role her own). Jerry (now Daphne), for his part, finds the impersonation suits him to a tee. So when he catches the eye of millionaire Osgood (hilarious Kevin Del Aguila), the match is delightfully plausible. When Joe woos Sugar out of drag, he affects an amusing German accent rather than the Cary Grant impersonation of Curtis in the film.

The score contains one tuneful number after another, and each character given multiple chances to shine. From Sugar’s bluesy  “A Darker Shade of Blue” to Osgood’s “Fly, Mariposa, Fly” to Joe’s “He Lied When He Said Hello,” and just about everything Sue belts out. But the biggest hand of the evening goes to Daphne’s self-revelatory soliloquy, “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather,” which brings down the proverbial house.

I may be alone in this but, throughout the show, I kept hearing the strains of the Burton Lane-Frank Loesser song “The Lady’s in Love With You.” I don’t know if that was mere coincidence or some kind of subtle homage, but that song was introduced in the  Bob Hope 1939 film called “Some Like It Hot.” not related to the Wilder movie at all. There are, as well, echoes of previous Shaiman tunes like "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful" from "Hairspray."

Scott Pask’s sets, Gregg Barnes’ costumes, and Natasha Katz’s lighting are solidly flashy and top-drawer Broadway quality as you’d expect. But Brian Ronan’s sound design was pitched way too loud for the musical numbers. With material as strong as this, there’s no reason to artificially pump up anyone’s adrenalin. At my performance, several friends sitting in different parts of the house complained they couldn’t make out the lyrics as the sound was so overloaded. 

This is an increasing problem with musicals these days, but it’s especially puzzling for a throwback score such as this. 

Anyone curious about Jule Styne’s “Sugar,” incidentally, will get the chance to make a comparison when the plucky J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company revives it in April at its Theatre Row venue. 

(Sam S. Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street;; or 212-239-6200)

Photos by Marc J. Franklin:

Top: (l to r): Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee

Below: Adrianna Hicks