HollywoodChicago.com RSS   Facebook   HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter   Free Giveaway E-mail   

Theater Review: ‘Sugar’ is an Artificial Sweetener

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet

CHICAGO – Few but the most professorial of Broadway aficionados recall with clarity the short-lived “Sugar,” which is one of the first film-to-stage transfers that premiered on the Great White Way in 1972 to lowly acclaim and even lower financial prowess. Though serving as a harbinger for the soon-to-be endowed trend of film derivatives, “Sugar” debuted in the throws of an era thirsty for the provocation of Michael Bennett and the insight of Stephen Sondheim.

HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 2.5/5.0
Play Rating: 2.5/5.0

More so, however, “Sugar” never seemed to quite crack the sweet recipe that buoyed its farcical siblings (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was a big winner the year of “Sugar’s” debut).

”Sugar” at Drury Lane Oakbrook” target=
”Sugar” at Drury Lane Oakbrook
Photo credit: Brett Beiner

Which is surprising considering the seemingly peerless components that comprise the work. For one, the musical boasts a score by the songwriting team of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, a duo responsible for the likes of “Gypsy” and “Funny Girl”. Not to mention it is based on the 1959 Billy Wilder film, “Some Like It Hot”, a now iconic piece of silver film roll with the stamps of the equally legendary Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe. The voluptuous actress played Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, a bombshell character known for her testosterone-loyal magnetism.

But there is rarely an absence of reasoning when it comes to Broadway’s most notorious flops, and “Sugar” is no exception. Peter Stone’s book delivers on several cynically charged zingers, but is mostly unable to vivify all of those gender-bending gags, a now easily exhaustible bit of gimmickry in the 21st Century. Styne’s score packs on the staple buoyancy but omits the heart and witticism accredited with distinguishing his musical voice. Early in the production, yacht captain Osgood Fielding sings of his love for one of the disguised men (whom he believes to be a voluptuous broad), gleaming “Naughty old men need naughty young girls.”

“Don’t Rain On My Parade”, this ain’t.

For the most part, writer-choreographer Jim Corti’s recent remount of the piece at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace manages to keep the caper afloat despite the barefaced foozles. After all, the original film capitalized on the as of yet inexhaustible gag of male-to-female cross-dressing and mistaken identity. Few script foibles can sour the stage image of a pair of hirsute legs in some platinum pumps. And leading men Rod Thomas and Alan Schmuckler are all too happy to slip in.

Rod Thomas and Jennifer Knox in
Rod Thomas and Jennifer Knox in “Sugar”
Photo credit: Brett Beiner

Thomas and Schmuckler play Joe and Jerry respectively, two down-on-their-luck musicians who inadvertently witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre. In a raucous effort to evade the machine gun-wielding mobsters hot to erase their memories, the two men disguise themselves as dames and join the ranks of Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopates, an all-female big band traveling the coasts. Burlesque and buffoonery, in equal parts, ensue.

The golden-voiced Thomas is slick and emotionally endearing as the conniving Joe. Schmuckler renders a wholly adroit comedic turn as Jerry and the drag Daphne, delving masterly between physical romp and deadpan neurosis. Schmuckler is a remarkable talent here, wielding proficiency in both his reverence to the film and fearlessness to explore the yet untapped possibilities for gambol.

StarMore theater reviews from critic Alissa Norby.
StarMore theater reviews from our other critics.

However, it is Jennifer Knox, in the libidinous title role, who deftly manages to eschew the shackles of Monroe’s amatory offering. Despite being embedded in an invasive and acrostic-ridden design conceit (Corti has placed the entire story in the context of a Hollywood soundstage, complete with sweating spotlights and omnipresent grips that confine the physicality and consequently, creativity of the numbers), Knox manages to proffer the sort of emotional pull that her director clearly desires to substitute with frothy vagary. Knox’s is an unfeigned authenticity, a heartiness that not only runs circles around Monroe, but adds the oomph to the show’s 11 o’clock number, “The People in My Life.”

“Sugar” may inarguably lack the requisite rotundity and wit that has lifted the great musical comedies of our time to super stardom. But with Schmuckler and Knox in the boat, there’s still a sweet time to be had.

“Sugar” runs through August 1, 2010 at the Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace, IL.. To purchase tickets or for more information please visit here. For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Alissa Norby

Staff Writer

© 2010 Alissa Norby, HollywoodChicago.com

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • Speech & Debate (stage play)

    CHICAGO – “Speech & Debate,” the latest production from the mighty Brown Paper Box Company, continues their tradition of thinking outside that “box” in presenting storefront theater that makes a statement and a difference. “Speech” goes inside America by showcasing the outsiders… those who create art because they can’t get it right in real life. This non-equity Chicago stage play premiere is finely tuned and wonderfully acted, and runs through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

  • We're Gonna Be Okay

    CHICAGO – The 1960s were a time of historical social transition. The movements – civil rights, feminist, gay rights – all had roots in that tumultuous decade. The Chicago premiere of Basil Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay” echoes all of those movements in its characters, and collides them against the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The show has a Thursday-Sunday run at the American Theater Company through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.


HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter


HollywoodChicago.com Top Ten Discussions