Star Tony Curtis mugs his way from the first moment he appears, endearingly trussed up as an aging millionaire playboy, to the end, when he delivers the show's famously perfect clincher.
Mugging isn't necessarily bad here, given that the campy tale sometimes almost demands it. And with a brassy, swinging score, some clever, breezy choreography, a slathering of schmaltz and more lingerie-clad babes than in a Victoria's Secret catalogue, the show doesn't pretend to be anything more than a frilly whim.
Dulled, though, is that brilliantly witty edge of social satire that Wilder, a laughing cynic if there ever was one, infused into his film. Restyled as a musical in under the title "Sugar," the show now uses the film's title and has music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill and a book by Peter Stone. Screen and stage plots are the same: Joe and Jerry, two Prohibition-era musicians in Chicago, don drag and become Josephine and Daphne, respectively, so they can join an all-female band to hide from Spats William Ryall , a mobster who wants them dead.
The band heads south to Miami, where Joe does some quick uncross-dressing to romance sexy band mate Sugar, while Jerry, as Daphne, constantly fends off the roaming hands of Osgood Curtis. Then Spats and his gang show up. He's now in the role that Joe E. Brown played indelibly onscreen, but Curtis's problem isn't that Osgood can't be made just as memorable onstage. It's that Curtis isn't the one to do it.
At 77, he's making his professional stage debut, and it shows: Though not a singer, he can sing, and he smiles winningly, but he's awkward, stiff, even downright ungainly when he moves and -- worse -- has no stage presence. Without the drawing power of his name and his association with the movie, it's hard to imagine him getting past a first audition.
Similarly, Carmeli, vocally as well as visually, often summons Monroe's trademark erotic innocence. They're well supported by a strong chorus and bit characters who alternately swirl, strut and dance across the stage per Dan Siretta's lively directing and choreography.
In fact, Siretta may have invented a new genre of dance: James Leonard Joy's lean and colorful sets swoop gracefully in and out, whisking us from downtown Chicago to a Pullman sleeping car to a posh hotel and an even posher yacht, and Suzy Benzinger's costumes lavishly bring the era to life.
Based on the screenplay by Billy Wilder and I. Directed and choreographed by Dan Siretta. Lighting, Ken Billington; sound, Christopher K. Approximately 2 hours 45 minutes.