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“Some Like It Hot”: from Hollywood to Broadway

“Nobody is perfect,” says the closing line of the classic film Some Like It Hot. True, but some movies are.

Mobsters and drag queens are often depicted in films and onstage but hardly together in the same story, much less in comedies or musicals. Some Like It Hot did it successfully in 1959.

Fifty years after its first stage adaptation in 1972, a musical based on Some Like It Hot has come back to Broadway, redefining the classic Billy Wilder movie, considered among the best comedies ever made (#1 in a poll of 253 film critics from 52 countries conducted by the BBC in 2017).

A box office success, in 1960 the film won the three Golden Globes for which it was nominated: Best Motion Picture – Comedy and the leading actors in that category, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Later, it was nominated for six Oscars including ones for Wilder and Lemmon, winning for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.

In 1989, the Library of Congress selected Some Like It Hot as one of the first 25 films for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. To be listed there a production has to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Long before that, Some Like It Hot had made history in another field. The great success of the movie is considered one of the reasons behind the ending of the “Hays Code,” a set of industry guidelines for censorship that was applied to most films released by major studios in Hollywood between 1934 to 1968, named after Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945.

The film tells the story of two unemployed musicians (Lemmon and Tony Curtis) struggling during Prohibition who disguise themselves as women after witnessing a massacre in Chicago. They then join a female traveling band only to find their hearts taking unexpected twists. Wilder wrote the script with I. A. L. Diamond based on the French film Fanfare d’amour (1935), directed by Richard Pottier.


Diamond was nominated for a Globe for another film, Avanti!, in 1972, the same year Some Like It Hot had its first Broadway adaptation. That musical was named Sugar after Monroe’s role as the lead singer of the band. It had four Tony award nominations.

Now, keeping the original title of the movie, the production is back on Broadway, a half-century later and after pandemic delays, with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, book by Matthew López & Amber Ruffin, and directed by Casey Nicholaw.

Along with hilarious chase sequences that could remind you of Charlie Chaplin’s movies, the 2022 version of “Some Like It Hot” took some liberties, as normally happens in adaptations, especially when almost a century has passed from the original story.

First, the setting was moved from 1929 (Great Depression) to 1933 to add the end of Prohibition, the nationwide constitutional law that prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, the characters run to California and México, instead of Florida; and the original roles played by Lemmon (Jerry/Daphne) and Monroe (Sugar) are now African Americans, and so is the leader of the now interracial female band “Society Syncopators”.

But then there are even deeper changes when the role of Jerry says “I crossed a border” and becomes more comfortable as being Daphne, and openly accepting a marriage offer from a -now half Latin- millionaire man.

The critics have approved this new Broadway version, which is already having buzz for the 2023 Tony Awards.

“…quiet, funny, revelatory… it lands in a world so vastly different from Wilder’s, and in a version of the story so vastly returned to address that world, that it seems like something much bigger. It’s an invitation, as is the show overall, to a new and intersectional stage of liberation,” recently wrote the critic Jesse Green of The New York Times. “At the same time, López and Ruffin’s book is subtly building an argument that links the original story about gender to an aligned one about race.”

“The musical’s narrative very loosely follows the original screenplay… Taking a classic film comedy -especially one that plays fast and loose with gender and sexuality- and turning it into a big Broadway musical is far from a sure thing in these contemporary times. But the creative team of the latest stage musical version of the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot brings fresh perspectives and a different kind of fun to the iconic film that memorably starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe. This stage production boasts swell performances, dandy twists and turns, razzmatazz dancing, and a whole lotta energy… all of which should please new audiences without alienating fans of the original,” wrote Frank Rizzo in Variety.

As the actress Natasha Yvette Williams, who plays Sweet Sue, the leader of the traveling band, said to New York Theatre Guide, in this show “There’s something on the menu for everyone.”