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[whitespace] 'Some Like It Hot'
Look, No Cavities! Quality dental hygiene is easy with bass strings.

Sugar High

Cabrillo Stage musical is hot despite the once-risqué '50s material having slightly cooled

By Julia Chiapella

NOSTALGIA IS a curious phenomenon. Move a couple of decades beyond an era and suddenly its edges blur, its dark side becomes an insignificant blip. The casualties of the '40s are ignored. The racism of the '50s is forgotten. The ghastly music of the '70s becomes a selling point.

Based on the notion that the past--no matter its faults--is preferable to the present, investing in this wistfulness has become a sure-fire marketing tool, especially for those with the good fortune (some will debate this) to have lived past the age of 40.

Nostalgia is good business. And nowhere does it linger more lovingly than in American musical theater.

Some Like It Hot, the 21st annual summer production of Cabrillo Stage, is director Janie Scott's affectionate recreation of Billy Wilder's 1959 movie blended with Sugar, the 1972 musical it inspired. A slapstick, screwball satire on gender identity and sexuality, in 1959 it was Wilder's ribald mocking of the Puritan 1950s.

And he got away with it. Splendidly. Some Like It Hot made more money than any other comedy up to that time.

But today, and especially in Santa Cruz, Some Like It Hot has an antiquated feel. The cross-dressing, the ditzy blonde, all that slinging of "broad" and "doll" play like an eccentric great uncle whom everyone humors because he's an anachronism.

Despite this, the Cabrillo Stage production of Some Like It Hot is a polished production, providing more than its share of talented performances and superb technical achievements.

Rising to professional theater status, Cabrillo Stage successfully transforms the cavernous playhouse on the Cabrillo College campus into a stage worthy of San Francisco or New York. A catwalk in front of the orchestra thrusts the stage further into the audience. Skip Epperson's sets are splendid recreations of the art deco era so key to the film. Lighting design by Ethan Hoerneman and costumes by Maria Crush are faultless. Only the sound left something to be desired, as the actors' microphones gave their words a tinny effect that was much too cold for the "heat" supposedly generated by the play.

Some Like the Plot

Following the down-on-their-luck travails of two hapless musicians, Some Like It Hot veers ever-so-gently into murder and mayhem. A gangster and his henchmen are packaged as if they were Fred Astaire and a witless mob of otherwise harmless Howdy-Doody characters. The rapid machine-gun fire blends into tap dancing as the thugs sing and dance their way through chaos.

When the two musicians, Joe and Jerry, happen to witness the St. Valentine's Day massacre during Chicago's crime-ridden late '20s, they begin a run for their lives with the gangster and his thugs in pursuit. This is where the gender-bending and sexual innuendo get their start. Learning that Sweet Sue and the Society Syncopaters, an all-women band, need a sax and bass player and will soon be taking the train to Florida, Joe and Jerry decide this is their chance. They dress as women and are immediately hired. As the train rolls toward Florida, they fall for Sugar Kane, a Syncopater prone to tough drinking and tougher relationships. When Wilder cast Marilyn Monroe as Sugar it was effortless typecasting.

With the stage set, the ensuing tale is one that has entertained audiences for millennia. From the Greeks to La Cage Aux Folles, cross-dressing and mistaken identities have been a staple of the best comedies.

Flawless Cast

The Cabrillo Stage production does not stint on good hoofing and singing. Elizabeth Earnheart is a solid Sugar Kane, singing better than Monroe while falling short of her breathy sensuality. This, however, is a good thing. Earnheart, despite the role's inherent status as helpless victim, manages to give Sugar nuanced substance.

The real stars of the show, as they were in the movie, are the musicians. Ian Leonard as Joe/Josephine and Tony Panighetti as Jerry/Daphne reprise the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon roles to a T. The gestures, the inflections, the manic underhandedness and the duplicitous schemes are played with buoyant generosity. Panighetti is especially good as Daphne, wooed by the older millionaire, Osgood. His reluctant transformation from male to female and back again is raucously brilliant.

There really isn't a flawed performance in the bunch. Burr Nissen gives Osgood a tenderhearted warmth despite his delirious antics around the opposite sex, and Rickey Tripp as Spats and Laura Donovan as Sweet Sue fill in the supporting roles with robust authority.

Special mention should also be made of the orchestra and its conductor, Lile O. Cruse, producing artistic director for Cabrillo Stage. They provided spritely, solid music without a hitch. Cruse has been doing this for 21 years and he appears not to have aged at all. There must be truth to the statistic that declares conductors live longer than those in other occupations.

Some Like It Hot is a casual, nostalgic romp well-acted and well-produced. That it's somewhat outdated doesn't stand in the way of its production values. As Osgood says to Panighetti's Daphne who, after a full courtship and proposal, reveals he's a man: "Nobody's perfect."

Some Like It Hot plays at Cabrillo College Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos, through Aug. 11, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $17-$24; call 479.6154.

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From the July 24-31, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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