The musical Sugar sports one song with a fighting chance to send you home singing its title, “Doin’ It For Sugar.” Change that slightly to “doin’ it for Bette” and it comes closer to the spirit of a preview performance at the Bellevue Little Theatre.
A pre-show tribute honored Bette Swanson, its producer who is stepping down from that role after producing 27 years at the BLT, including two earlier goes at this musical based on Billy Wilder’s comedy classic, “Some Like It Hot.”
Recall that screen version, named the all-time top comedy by the American Film Institute, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag? You know, where Jack gets hot and bothered with Marilyn Monroe in a Pullman berth?
Then you can understand why even a failed stage version appeals enough to Bette Swanson and her Bellevue neighbors to justify a third go-round for a show that’s never made it even once to the Omaha Community Playhouse or other metro stages.
For starters, you need a passable Marilyn, or Sugar Kane in this case, and director Bridget Robbins was blessed with Angela Fick. She not only has all the Blonde Bombshell beauty and curves, but comes closer than most to sounding like the icon.
Next, you need a comic who can squeeze into that train bunk with Sugar and get laughs from all the sexual innuendo. Enter Timothy Barr as Jerry dressed as Daphne with ogling eyes and mischievous grin, and it only adds to the fun that he makes such an ungainly woman.
If you’ve forgotten the story line: Barr’s bass player and Adam Hogston’s saxophonist witness a famous mobster massacre in a Chicago garage and hide out disguised in an all-girl band traveling to Miami. The best “big” number of the night has them all singing, “Sun on My Face,” as they arrive in Florida.
Let me qualify this musical’s failure. It actually ran over a year on Broadway and won awards for Robert Morse as Joe, the sax player who falls for Sugar. For me, Adam Hogston didn’t make much impact as Joe/Josephine but came across when he further disguised himself as the young millionaire of Sugar’s dreams.
Maybe it was an on-and-off sound system, but I’m guessing Morse did a better job of selling that “Doin’ It for Sugar” song by Jule Styne and Robert Merrill. I won’t try to list the reasons both the musical and performances fall short, but I’ll try to explain why it’s still a lot of fun.
Robbins and her cast don’t seem to worry too much about the small stuff—like whether artificial palm trees have lopsided fronds or that their dancers are the antithesis of cookie-cutter Rockettes. Most of its weakness are more charming than off-putting. An exception was a clumsy-looking back on an otherwise attractive gown.
So, yes, Sugar has its problems. But Angela Fick’s title character wouldn’t look out of place on Broadway, Barr didn’t miss many chances to win laughs, Ric Swanson’s musicians (performing in the background on stage) were pleasing, and some of the supporting players shined.
Curtis J. Leach, a BLT veteran, scores as the aging millionaire who falls for Jerry/Daphne, an attraction that troubles him/her until the expensive gifts start coming. If you can’t picture Curtis as Sir Osgood Fielding, imagine Cyril Ritchard on stage or Joe E. Brown in the movie.
Even a motley group of dancers needs a standout, and Jason Delong provided the pizazz as Spats Palazzo, the mob boss who tap dances as he pursues Joe and Jerry, leading a gang armed with toy-sized tommy-guns. (It helps that in the Prohibition Era machine guns had comic book qualities and not the menace of modern assault weapons.)
And the director got good mileage from Robby Stone as a gleeful train announcer and other characters, enlivening his every appearance on stage. Teri Gabel had mixed moments as Sweet Sue, the loud leader of the girls’ band.
See it after it starts running a little smoother, and you might wonder why it hasn’t become one of those old-fashioned musicals that gets revived more often. It certainly has plenty of that good old “let’s put on a show” spirit.
Sugar runs through April 28, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; no performance April 26 but added show 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Bellevue Little Theatre on Mission in Olde Towne. Tickets are $18, $15 seniors and $9 students. Call 402.291.1554 or visit bellevuelittletheatre.com.