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Musical Inversion 

The idea behind turning Broadway musicals into movies is simple. Relatively few people get to see a play. Moving a play around is difficult and expensive. And you can do incredible things in cinema -- where the sky is the limit and nothing has to be repeated every night and twice on Wednesday and Sunday.

Making a musical out of a movie is almost the opposite. The whole point is that so many people have already seen the movie, it's become part of the zeitgeist. In one sense, the process is not unlike the myths of ancient Greece, which the audience knew in every detail, becoming fodder for the stage. But there's a difference: we not only know the story, we know the lines, the actors, the look, the gestures. The movie-turned-musical draws some of its appeal from the same font of nostalgia as trivial pursuit.

Sugar, currently on the boards at Rivertown Rep, is a perfect example. Based on Billy Wilder's 1959 classic Some Like It Hot (which featured unforgettable performances by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe), the play sets off a subliminal replay of the film somewhere in your cerebellum.

Chip Steltz is fortunate in his choice of leads: Gary Rucker and Greg Di Leo are a marvelous comedy team, as we saw, for instance, in their inspired shenanigans last year in Lend Me a Tenor. They had already, in fact, proved themselves a winning pair of dames when they played Daphne and Josephine in an excellent dramatic reading of Some Like It Hot as part of Mikko's Hollywood series at Le Chat Noir. At Rivertown Rep, they keep the show afloat with an easy, believable give-and-take (or double-take, as the case may be).

The most inventive idea in Sugar combines the weird nervous energy of gangsters and the percussive sound of Tommy guns. Spats (a poised and engaging Ron Marchal) and his hoods (Eric Porter and Jacob Stroman) tap and shuffle from place to place. Always. It's their only method of locomotion.

Lisette Bayle is a fine, truculent Sweet Sue, head honcho of Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators. And Reggie Hendry gives us a pleasantly addled Sir Osgood Fielding. In the difficult role of Sugar Kane, the lovely Kate Abreo projects an appealing innocence and sings beautifully. However, the poignant, lost-soul sultriness of this good-time girl is less evident than it might be.

On opening night, the staging was a bit indecisive and the elaborate set elements seemed to be in an uncooperative mood. This is bound to improve. Sugar is an often amusing confection, where the whole is somehow smaller than the sum of its parts.

Meanwhile, over at NORD, a little local classic was getting another airing. Cinderella Battistella, with music by the late Fred Palmisano and book and lyrics by Bob Bruce and David Cuthbert, was first produced in the late 1980s at Le Petit's Children's Corner, but has bubbled back to the surface several times since.

The story is told by Mother LeRoux (Lawana Menendez), a reader and advisor, who stirs a big moss-hung cauldron of Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo and offers teach-yourself videos for sale via her toll-free number.

We flash back to the 1950s. Cinderella Batistella (Country Day School senior Christina Peck) lives "over in the Marigny." She suffers the verbal slings and arrows of her cruel stepmother, Evangeline DeLaParish Batistella (KeShauna Jones) and her catty daughters, Feliciana and Tangipahoa (Tracey Collins and Caitlyn Watson): "Cinderella Batistella, gonna lock her in the cella' -- if she gives us any static, gonna lock her in the attic!"

Mother LeRoux takes the ferry from Algiers, bringing Cinderella a ball gown to wear ("On this budget, you want special effects? Give me a break!"). She transforms Buster Crab (Querido Arias) and Berl Crawfish (Joey Giglio) into attendants. To be precise, Buster metamorphoses into a fey hair dresser in a sports coat with glitter lapels and a pompadour! In any case, Cinderella drives off to the Twelfth Night Ball in a snazzy convertible. There, she wins the heart of Harvey Canale Jr. (Robert Fielding), son of Harvey Canale Sr., The King Cake King (Gary Crowley).

All this takes place in a mood of beguiling silliness buoyed by a dozen of Palmisano's cheerful tunes. The lyrics are witty without being forced, as in "Mother's Slightly Tarnished Golden Rule."

Director Ty Tracy, as usual, manages to make his production entertaining while bringing along new talent, regardless of age, in the chorus and minor parts. Kids are bound to love this lighthearted romp with its heavy dash of local spices.

click to enlarge You two: Gary Rucker and Greg Di Leo crack 'em up - in reprising their men-in-drag act in Rivertown - Rep's version of Sugar.
  • You two: Gary Rucker and Greg Di Leo crack 'em up in reprising their men-in-drag act in Rivertown Rep's version of Sugar.
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