'Sugar' could use sweetening
by Susan Berlin

Aug. 9, 2000

Wildwood Summer Theatre's production of "Sugar" has its moments, but the show would be substantially better if the audience could actually hear the performers. (It is to be hoped that WST has reclaimed its body mikes in time for the rest of the run.)

The sound problem is not the fault of WST, which stages a musical each summer with a cast, crew, and production staff comprised entirely of people between the ages of 14 and 25. It is the design of the Quince Orchard High School auditorium. The stage is so far from the audience -- isolated behind a broad expanse in front of the first row of seats, a sizable orchestra pit and a downstage apron -- that visually it resembles a diorama.

"Sugar" is a 1972 musical adapted from the classic 1959 film comedy "Some Like It Hot." While it is the work of composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill (who earlier collaborated on "Funny Girl"), with a book (mostly) by Peter Stone (author of "1776") derived from the screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, none of these writers was working at the peak of his skills. Also, it must be a daunting challenge to try to bring fresh interpretations to roles that were played definitively in the film by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.

The plot concerns Joe (Jud Wegner) and Jerry (Andrew Schlosberg), unemployed musicians in 1929 Chicago, who inadvertently witness a gangland shootout and have to run for their lives. The only way out of town they can find is to shave their legs, put on wigs, and join an all-female band heading for Miami (as "Josephine" and "Daphne").

The pacing is slow and often laborious, despite the efforts of director Jared Stern to keep prodding it along. This is partly because of time-consuming set changes, partly because of the requirements of the show.

For example, a tap dance number for the gangsters goes on forever because it is filling the time being spent backstage turning Joe and Jerry into semi-convincing women.

Kristina Sherk brings a pleasing naturalness and down-to-earth quality (no breathy imitation of Marilyn's voice) to her portrayal of Sugar Kane, down-on-her-luck singer and "bosom friend" of Joe and Jerry. Wegner is a confident leading man; Schlosberg seems to be having the time of his life (although a fuller skirt might help with the female illusion); and Asa Bass is rather charming as the dirty old man who likes Daphne.

On the other hand, some of the smaller performances are so far over the top, they stop being funny. Sarah Levin plays bandleader Sweet Sue as a drill sergeant; as her assistant Bienstock, Utkarsh Ambudkar is encouraged to bug his eyes and strike grossly exaggerated poses; and as gangster Spats Palazzo, Nathaniel Claridad is a snappy dancer, but otherwise his performance (especially his barking laugh) soon gets tired.

"Sugar" continues weekends through Aug. 12 at Quince Orchard High School, 15800 Quince Orchard Road, Gaithersburg. For ticket information, call 301-858-6260.

--From the Montgomery Gazette