From left: Jonathan Goforth and Lawrence Mazza in Cocoa Village Playhouse production of “Sugar.” Photo by Goforth Photography
By PAM HARBAUGH
Cocoa Village Playhouse spins an empty-calorie story into a cotton candy treat with its adorable production of the musical “Sugar.”
With music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, librettist Peter Stone based the book on the 1959 Billy Wilder movie “Some Like It Hot,” which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon. Set in 1931 Chicago and Miami, the story revolves around two male musicians, Joe and Jerry, who witness a gangland murder. To escape, they pretend to be women and join an all-woman band headed up by song stylist Sugar Kane. And, like the movie, the musical is filled with laughs and silly cross-dressing situations, which now seem even sillier given society’s rising consciousness.
Like the movie, this musical is a star vehicle. The thin plot works only if you’ve got three great performers to electrify the roles of Joe, Jerry and Sugar. And boy does Cocoa Village Playhouse have those three in Jonathan Goforth, Lawrence Mazza and Caroline Hinton. Add another one, Brian Smith, in his hysterical turn as Sir Osgood Fielding, an aging millionaire playboy (Joe E. Brown in the movie).Mr. Goforth and Mr. Mazza are so doggoned funny when Joe and Jerry dress up like Josephine and Daphne. Rather than doing the cheap men-dressing-as-women gag, they let their characters seem like women and trust the story to do the rest. Mr. Smith goes delightfully over the top when he falls for Daphne — their dancing scene is a laugh a minute.
Director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith stages a most tempting romantic scene between Mr. Goforth and Ms. Hinton, allowing Cocoa Village Playhouse’s stage to heat up more than ever before. Another nice touch is the presence of the gangsters, headed up by tap dancing Spatz (Walter Johnson). Choreographer Megan Abbott has them tap dancing their entrances and exits, creating a sinister “tommy gun” impression.
The music is about as empty-calorie as the story. You’ll laugh, tap your toes, but won’t be humming any tunes when you leave. Nevertheless, it’s conducted with expected perfection by William H. Yoh, Jr. and delivered expertly by Mr. Yoh’s pit orchestra.
Scenic/lighting designer Ian Cook’s work is so strong in this production that you’ll remember it more than anything (except for how much you love Goforth, Mazza, Hinton and Smith). His work, aided by Jeremy Phelps, is simply inspired, from an art-deco and sleeper car scenic units to gorgeous rear projections of a hotel interior and an oceanside with an image of a boat that actually moves left to right (how did he do that?).
And Dan Hill’s costume design is right on the mark here. Every touch is excellent.
So, yes, this has all the top drawer production values you expect from Cocoa Village Playhouse. It also has some most appealing actors. You’ll laugh from beginning to end. It’s “Sugar” for the sake of sugar. Considering CVP tackles Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” next, this is like having dessert before the main course.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Sugar” runs through March 27 at the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. Tickets are $16 to $24. Call 321-636-5050 or visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com.