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'Some Like It Hot' on Broadway remixes the original 1959 charm for a modern audience

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Tony Awards are this Sunday night, and the show with the most nominations is a musical that reimagines a classic 1959 movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME LIKE IT HOT")

NATASHA YVETTE WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) Some like it hot, and hot is what I got for you.

SHAPIRO: The film "Some Like It Hot" was forward-thinking for its time. It's about two men who witness a mob hit. To escape, they dress as women and join an all-female band headed for Florida. By today's standards, the movie feels a bit dated.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOME LIKE IT HOT")

JACK LEMMON: (As Jerry) Look how she moves. It's just like Jell-O on springs - must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it's a whole different sex.

SHAPIRO: So Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin, who wrote the book of the new musical, had to find a way to make this period piece work for today's audiences.

MATTHEW LOPEZ: For example, we knew that we wanted this show to not be as monolithically white as the movie was.

SHAPIRO: The movie is a hundred percent, as best I can tell, white.

LOPEZ: And if you remember in the movie, they take a train down to Florida. And it was basically, like, hour two of day one, we were like, well, you put one Black person on that train. They're not going to Florida.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M CALIFORNIA BOUND")

J HARRISON GHEE: (As Jerry, singing) I feel naked, like everybody's staring at me.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) We're California bound.

CHRISTIAN BORLE: (As Joe, singing) No one staring at you, but I like what I see.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) We're California bound.

SHAPIRO: Because it's - well, the movie's 1929. The musical is 1933. Black people in Florida had a very different experience from white people.

AMBER RUFFIN: They're still having it.

LOPEZ: They really are, but I think that - so setting it in California - so decisions like that was the first thing we did writing the book for the musical.

SHAPIRO: That's interesting because you could have made a decision to do colorblind casting. Like, let's not pay any attention to race whatsoever. And instead, you have three main characters, arguably four, who are not white. And that is a part of the plot. That is a part of the characterization. That is, like, essential to the version of the story that you're telling. Talk about that decision.

RUFFIN: It wasn't on purpose in every case. Sometimes it was just the person we loved the most, and then we were like, you know what? If she's going to be Black, let her be Blackity-Black (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT ARE YOU THIRSTY FOR?")

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) And when I'm laid out on judgment day, I'll be fine to find I'm headed down old Satan's way.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) Satan's way, Satan's way.

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) And this is what I pray I'll hear him say. Take a seat, Sweet Sue.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) Take a seat, sweet Sue.

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) I've been expecting you.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) A table for two.

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) And I'm about to pour, so what are you thirsty for?

SHAPIRO: Sweet Sue is one of those characters who saw a big change. She's the bandleader. Another character who had a transformation is Daphne, who starts out as Jerry. In the movie, he's played by Jack Lemmon. In the musical, the non-binary performer J. Harrison Ghee plays the role.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU COULDA KNOCKED ME OVER WITH A FEATHER")

GHEE: (As Jerry/Daphne, singing) Because tonight I realized Daphne is my one true love. And you could have knocked me over with a feather. You could have knocked this train off its track. For weeks, I've had a funny feeling...

LOPEZ: For me, the reason I said yes to the show was so that I could help do what we did with Daphne.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU COULDA KNOCKED ME OVER WITH A FEATHER")

GHEE: (As Jerry/Daphne, singing) Yes, I have tried to love many ladies back when I sang in a much lower key. Now you could knock me over with a feather 'cause, Joe, the lady that I'm loving is me.

LOPEZ: J. came along and took what was there and instantly elevated it, and that gave us something to write toward. So then the desire to do something was matched by the ability to do it when J. came along.

SHAPIRO: Can we also talk about the character Sugar Kane, who in the film is, of course, iconically played by Marilyn Monroe?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOME LIKE IT HOT")

MARILYN MONROE: (As Sugar Kane, singing) I want to be loved by you - just you, nobody else but you. I want to be loved by you alone. (Vocalizing).

SHAPIRO: And you did not cast a blonde bombshell. You did not write this character as a blonde bombshell. Tell me about the direction you took this character.

RUFFIN: I mean, it was important to me that Sugar Kane not be an idiot, but also have some flaws. You know what I mean? Like, it - that used to fly where you could get a whole meal off of, I'm a girl, and I don't know what I'm doing. Oh, I got tricked. Like, but you can't do that anymore. I mean, no one has the stomach for it. So then it was really delightful to find out who Sugar was in fitting in this whole show because so many things has to happen to her. She goes on such a journey, you know, that - you figure out who she is along with the story. And Adrianna certainly isn't hurting anybody. That child is fantastic.

SHAPIRO: This is Adrianna Hicks, who plays the role.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A DARKER SHADE OF BLUE")

ADRIANNA HICKS: (As Sugar, singing) To keep the night from turning to a darker shade of blue.

SHAPIRO: The movie set in 1929. The stage show is set in 1933, a small change that makes a big difference. Explain that.

LOPEZ: We wanted to have the - just the subtle pressure of the Depression pushing these characters towards making any decisions that they make and also creating headwinds toward progress that they might be making in life. We wanted to set it at the end of Prohibition so that they are also faced with the question of, what do we do next?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, LET'S GET GOOD")

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue) Let's raise a glass of lawful liquor, my pets, for the 21st Amendment has just been ratified, and that spells the end of Prohibition.

LOPEZ: We don't want to end the show with the crash of '29. That would be so sad (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, LET'S GET GOOD")

TYNIA RENE BRANDON: (As Dolores, singing) We'll have to choose a Sunday kind of celebrating.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) The positive is what we'll now be accentuating.

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) What are you thirsty for?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) What are you thirsty for?

SHAPIRO: Amber Ruffin and Matthew Lopez, congratulations on your Tony nomination and on having written the book for the most Tony-nominated show this year, "Some Like It Hot." Thank you so much.

LOPEZ: Thanks, Ari.

RUFFIN: Yay. Thanks for having us. Woo-woo (ph). Yay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, LET'S GET GOOD")

CHRISTIAN BORLE, J HARRISON GHEE AND ADRIANNA HICKS: (As Joe, Daphne and Sugar, singing) Yeah, who would have thought that when we boarded that train...

BORLE: (As Joe, singing) That all the lights in Hollywood would spell Sugar Kane?

HICKS: (As Sugar, singing) Yes, MGM's calling.

KEVIN DEL AGUILA: (As Osgood, singing) The band's made a killing.

CHRISTIAN BORLE AND J HARRISON GHEE: (As Joe and Daphne, singing) And we can still be partners.

GHEE: (As Daphne, singing) But who gets top billing?

CHRISTIAN BORLE AND ADRIANNA HICKS: (As Joe and Sugar, singing) No more hiding the love we've got.

KEVIN DEL AGUILA AND J HARRISON GHEE: (As Osgood and Daphne, singing) And now the time has come for us to tie the knot.

WILLIAMS: (As Sweet Sue, singing) Then we'll turn up the heat because we like it hot.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) Yeah, things are looking as they should. Baby, baby, baby, let's get good. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Megan Lim
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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