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At the Shubert

By Gregg J. Kilday

OH SUGAR! David Merrick's gone and made Some Like It Hot into a musical and boy is it a dud. Now in pre-Broadway tryouts. Sugar has been on the road for over two months, trying to get up enough guts to show its face in New York. But by the looks of things Wednesday night, even if this show took a forty-year detour by way of the Sinai Desert it still wouldn't know where to go next.

Some Like It Hot, you will recall, was the Billy Wilder-I.A.L. Diamond tale of two down-and-out musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who take refuge from some Chicago hoods by joining up with an all-girl band headlining Marilyn Monroe. It was, in every way, a winner, and if you're looking around for ways to spend your money, you might invest 15 cents on a TV Guide so that you don't miss the film next time it's on the tube.

In any case, you won't want to blow the money on the train ride into Boston, because Sugar, even though it's been designed and packaged by a roster of Broadway heavies, is about as weak as this present transition. All involved--Peter Stone on book, Jule Styne on Music. Bob Merrill on lyrics, sets by Jo Mielziner, direction and choreography by Gower Champion--appear to have approached the assignment with the kind of enthusiasm that should be reserved only for musicalizations of Night of the Living Dead. Lyrically, the libretto must have been written with a rhyming dictionary in one hand and a Funk and Wagnalls in the other. Musically, the score repeats trite A-B-A patterns with a kind of excess that would be recognized even on Sesame Strret. And the sets are the most resolutely ugly things I've come into contact with since the 1950's.

Champion's dances fall into the competent-but-uninspired category. The same cannot be said for poor Elaine Joyce who, as Sugar, has good legs, vacant eyes, an inability to read lines with any degree of zest, and limited vocal abilities. Tony Roberts plays Jerry, the guy who falls in love with her while impersonating a millionaire; although he tends to sound like a young Walter Mathau, he's a pleasant enough fellow and this whole experience shouldn't be too much of a drag on his career. On the other hand, Robert Morse--whom I find fey and distasteful to begin with--is here quite genuinely funny. His second-act burlesque of a young girl in love is the show's one redeeming feature. Cyril Ritchard appears as the dirty old man who inspires Morse's affection and generally lives up to the role.

All in all, I'd give Sugar up for lost if it weren't for the middle-age ladies at whom most of the show's humor appears to be directed. (For, as women, Morse and Roberts are costumed in particularly doughty fashion and their god-how-my-girdle's-killing-me routines seemed to meet with favorable response mostly on the part of the audience's ladies who lunch.) In fact, it seems to me Merrick's only got two choices--he can either close the damn thing out of town, or he can bring it into New York and play it on a six-matinee-a-week schedule. In either case, no matter how much effort goes into salvaging the show, this is one case where the Sugar just ain't goin' to ferment.

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