While successful in its own right, "Sugar," the new Music Circus production opening Tuesday based on Billy Wilder's classic comedy "Some Like It Hot," has never enjoyed the acclaim that follows the film.
Wilder's 1959 screwball comedy starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, and each created indelible characters that were career highlights for those major movie stars.
In 2000, the American Film Institute named "Some Like It Hot" the funniest American film of all time.
"Sugar," the 1972 musical with a book by Peter Stone, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, has a less-accomplished résumé.
The play follows a tightened version of the film, which centered on two unemployed musicians (Lemmon and Curtis) who witness Chicago's infamous St. Valentine's Day massacre. They evade pursuing gangsters by dressing in drag and joining an all- female band (Monroe is the singer).
In the play, Lemmon's role of Jerry (and his female creation Daphne) will be played by Music Circus veteran Jason Graae ("Anything Goes" and "The Music Man"). Broadway veteran Brent Barrett steps into the Curtis role as Joe (and Josephine). Elizabeth Stanley takes on the Monroe role of Sugar Kane Kowalczyk.
In its initial run, "Sugar" received mixed-to-positive reviews and went on to more than 500 performances on Broadway. It has always been a personal favorite of Music Circus artistic director Glenn Casale, who helms the company's third production of the show (it was previously produced in 1975 and 1981).
As the cross-dressing musicians, Graae and Barrett have been studying the script and music for months. Both said they've been impressed by the play's effortless situational comedy and vibrant, brassy score.
"What's great about it and so fresh about it is that the score isn't so well known," Graae said. "You're discovering them for the first time and it's kind of like a brand-new musical."
Graae said he's been careful to avoid becoming trapped by Lemmon's memorable performance in the movie.
"('Some Like It Hot') was just on my favorite channel TCM but I couldn't watch it," Graae said. "I've seen it probably 15 times, but I couldn't watch it this time because Jack Lemmon is so imprinted on that role.
"It's kind of nice because you have somebody etched for you, but then the challenge is to make it your own and not do an imitation and find your own way with it."
Graae did watch a YouTube clip of Lemmon as Daphne to get a sense of how Lemmon did his female voice.
"(Casale) has been very specific about that," Graae said. "He didn't want a crazy caricature voice when we're portraying the women. He wanted us to sound believable but heightened."
The director also has been very clear about how the comedy should be played, Barrett said, adding that actors were urged to remain honest to the ridiculous circumstances "as opposed to trying to be 'funny' in those situations."
One of the biggest challenges for the two lead actors hasn't been impersonating women it's been the costume and makeup changes.
Both Graae and Barrett wear heavy, flesh-colored tights under their fishnet stockings during performances so they won't have to shave their legs.
But their faces are another story.
"Yesterday we did our makeup for the first time and I'm still picking that eyelash glue off of my eyelids," Graae said.
Barrett agreed, rubbing his red eyes. He performs multiple transformations as he moves between playing the fake millionaire Junior (so he can romance Sugar) and Joe's female disguise Josephine.
"Yeah, I don't know how girls do it," Barrett said. "There are secrets women know. They learn from the beginning and we just don't know them. But the ladies in our cast have been very sweet and very helpful. I'd be a little lost without them."
What: Music Circus production of the musical written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, and based on Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot"
Where: Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Matinees are 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday.
Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.