Characters made famous in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill of Funny Girl fame, a couple of men in drag, all-around terrific performances, and one particularly inspired bit of casting turned Sunday’s concert staged reading of the 1972 Broadway hit Sugar into another one-performance-only Musical Theatre Guild concert staged reading delight.

Movie buffs must surely recall the tale screenwriters Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond had to tell back in 1959, that of a couple of out-of-work Chicago musicians named Jerry and Joe who, having eyewitnessed the 1929 gangland shooting soon to be dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, must escape south to Miami disguised as the latest members of Sweet Sue’s all-girl Society Syncopaters.

It doesn’t take long for romance to bloom between an out-of-drag Joe and Syncopater sexpot Sugar Kane, and between a still-in-drag “Daphne” and millionaire septuagenarian Sir Osgood Fielding, whose lavish gifts might just be enough to turn a girl’s head, even one who’s not really a girl.

Other than some trims to Wilder and Diamond’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, book writer Peter Stone knew better than to mess with success back in ‘72, and with songwriters Styne and Merrill treating audiences to such catchy gems as “When You Meet A Girl In Chicago,” “Penniless Bums,” “Doin’ It For Sugar,” and “What Do You Give To A Man Who Have Everything?”, Sugar had what it took to run for over 500 performances.

Still, despite its many charms (and a 1992 West End revival and a 2002 U.S. National Tour), Sugar has pretty much faded into rarely-if-ever-produced obscurity, making it ideal for MTG resurrection.

Director Kirsten Chandler once again proved herself a master of the 25-hour-rehearsal, book-in-hand concert staged reading, eschewing the row-of-chairs format that’s become pretty much de rigueur for the genre and instead treating Sunday’s “reading” audience to a nearly fully-staged production, albeit one minus elaborate sets and with only a handful of costume changes.

Choreography there was quite a bit of, however, thanks to Wendy Rosoff’s ingenuity and some quick-study dancers, and though performers carried scripts during dialog sequences, so well prepared were they for their once-in-a-lifetime assignments that most seemed scarcely to be giving them a glance.

Melissa Fahn has now added Sugar Kane to the long list of dumb-and-ditzy blondes that have made her an MTG treasure, more than doing Sugar curvy, breathy-voiced justice; Zachary Ford’s Joe and his drag alter ego Josephine could not have been more winning, and that was even before “Shell Oil heir Junior” displayed Ford’s comedic and romantic-lead chops: and the venerable Gleason couldn’t have been more delightful as a pint-sized pixy of a man who doesn’t mind a bit of imperfection where his “Daphne” is concerned.

Speaking of which, and here’s the inspired casting I was referring to earlier, whoever suggested 6’6” Broadway triple-threat Matthew Patrick Davis to play Jerry and the 6’10”-in-heels Daphne deserves his or her own standing ovation, because not only did Davis prove a charmer from the get-go, in lusciously lanky drag he looked as pretty as a picture, and the sheer joy of seeing Davis paired with petite ball of fire Fahn or (even better) dancing chest-to-cheek with a besotted Gleason was in itself worth the price of admission.

Chuck Bergman’s Knuckles Norton, Kelly Lester’s Sweet Sue, and Glenn Rosenblum’s Bienstock added to the fun and frolic throughout; ensemble members Caitlyn Faucher, Anthony Gruppuso, Amir Levi, Dana Shaw, Glenn Shiroma, Karlee Squires, and Ann Villella brought to exuberant life Society Syncopaters, geezer millionaires, and comic gangsters alike; and Shiroma and fellow Mafiosi Bryan Chesters (Spatz Palazzo) and Eric B. Anthony (Dude) gave us a trio of hilarious hoodlums with the motto “Never walk when you can tap, tap, tap.”

Musical director Jan Roper and her own all-girl band provided expert instrumental backup, with A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s AJS Costumes earning design points for gangster, flapper, and millionaire wear.

Eileen Barnett was production coordinator.  Art Brickman was production stage manager, Jamie Salinger was stage manager, and Megan Halm and Sara Weed were assistant stage managers.

A bit too forgotten a gem to warrant a major big-stage revival any time soon, Sugar more than merited its one-night-only Musical Theatre Guild concert staged reading. Sugar on a Sunday proved sweet indeed.

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Alex Theatre, Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
September 24, 2017
Production Stills: Alan Weston



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