ANY review of Sugar simply has to begin with Some Like It Hot, universally recognised as one of the wittiest and most stylish comedies ever to come out of Hollywood. Someone was almost bound to do a stage musical adaptation sooner or later, though I was surprised to find that Sugar had been around since 1972.
Anyway, whether considered as a hommage or on its own terms, the stage musical works well. Much of the film’s sparkling dialogue is intact; there are three or four plot holes, two or three of which are also in the movie, so small blame there.
The music has a lovely smoky feel of Prohibition-era jazz, with some gorgeous clarinet solos (take a bow Louise Toomer) – not all the melodies could be described as catchy, but there are some nice touches. I particularly liked the spoken-percussive “Tear This Town Apart”, with cast members beating time on corrugated iron – twenty years before Stomp. (Shame to lose “I Wanna Be Loved by You” though).
Wellington’s production provides rich entertainment. Susan Stratton, who directed and choreographed a splendid Singin’ in the Rain two years ago, has a firm hand on the reins, and the choreography is as precise as could be wished. The costumes are numerous and beautiful (or occasionally hideous). Techno-wise, the yacht and (especially) train scenes are as ingeniously contrived as anyone who saw the Kevin Stratton-stage-managed Singin’ in the Rain would expect. (Sadly there were serious problems with a couple of the cast mics on the opening night – hopefully these will be addressed in later performances).
Wisely, the show does not attempt to be a carbon copy of the movie. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, particularly the former, made quite stylish dames; this show by contrast gets all the comedy it can out of the incongruity of their ‘female’ appearance (“They’re the ugliest broads I ever saw!”). The one exception is Joe’s Cary Grant impression when playing the fake millionaire, which doesn’t really match up to Curtis’s – but what could?
Hannah Green as Sugar, little more than a month after her outstanding against-type portrayal of the downtrodden Andy in WTC’s Stepping Out, is the consummate showgirl, with a distinct touch of Marilyn breathiness but still very much her own take on the character. Leon Searle and Ian Oliver make a hilarious double-act as Joe and Jerry and look suitably ridiculous in drag.
Osgood Fielding (immortalised by Joe E. Brown) was for some reason changed from an American millionaire to an English aristocrat – but once that transformation was in place, Nick Thompson, with his resonant baritone, plummy vowels and two prime solos, was in serious danger of stealing the show. And to the credit of the adaptors, his iconic last line was retained in favour of a closing musical number.
There’s never room in a review to give credit to all who deserve it. Michael Cole as the gang boss has impressive presence, despite major problems with the accent. Monica Spalding shows her usual command of the stage, and Ashleigh Payne his usual bendiness. All the bit-part players and chorus did splendidly.
All-in-all, highly recommended entertainment.