If you've seen Some Like It Hot, nothing that happens in the Quad City Music Guild's Sugar will come as a surprise; this 1973 musical-comedy is almost slavishly faithful to the 1959 Billy Wilder film that inspired it. But it does feature a curlicue that makes me giggle: the tap-dancing gangsters.
Greg Bouljon and Doug Alderman are the best things about Sugar. Bouljon's Spats speaks in a Damon Runyan-esque, dese-dem-dose accent and clearly relishes playing the heavy, and Alderman - whose Dude's I.Q. is slightly lower than a goldfish's - is a figure of slow-talking hilarity. Neither is more amusing than when skittering across the stage with their tap shoes clacking; Spats and Dude have machine-guns in their soles. Although neither is essential to Sugar's storyline, you remember them with more affection than you do much of the show, because Bouljon and Alderman are among only a very few on the Music Guild stage who look like they're having fun.
Like Some Like It Hot, Sugar is a screwball farce involving two musicians, Joe (Tom Vaccaro) and Jerry (Wayne Hess), who witness a gangland execution and evade the mobsters by posing as Josephine and Daphne, the newest members of an all-female jazz band. While incognito, Joe falls for the band's dizzy chanteuse, Sugar Kane (Melissa Anderson Clark), Jerry is hounded by the quick-to-marry millionaire, Osgood (Bruce Pieper), and mistaken identity and sexual confusion ensue.
Some Like It Hot is one of the greatest comedies produced in America, and the smartest thing Sugar's creators did was to leave the movie mostly alone; the lines that make the audience laugh uproariously are taken from Wilder's script verbatim. And that's a relief, because the "musical" aspect of this musical comedy fails to make any impression whatsoever. The performers are saddled with the kind of depressingly generic musical-comedy numbers that don't do anything for actors; the songs neither reveal the spirit of the characters nor accelerate the plot. They're purely functional, and only work if those performing them do so with confidence and spirit, two elements that the Music Guild production could've used more of.
In the title role, Anderson Clark has a fine voice and wide grin, and performs with professionalism. But she never cuts loose. No one should ever be asked to channel Marilyn Monroe, who played the role on-screen, but without Monroe's air of addle-brained, angelic ditsiness, nothing differentiates Sugar from any other musical-comedy ingénue. Anderson Clark's Sugar is a perfectly nice lady, but she's missing the necessary madcap zest. She's far too sane for Sugar, and for Sugar.
When he finally dons a dress, Hess emerges as a brazen comic who cleverly underplays many of his best lines; it takes a couple of beats for you to realize how hysterical they actually are. (His tossed-off delivery of "I'm engaged!" is Hess' finest moment.) Many performers are at their most inspired when getting to hide behind funny accents and outré costumes, and whenever Hess suits up as Daphne - especially when pursued by the suave, scene-stealing Bruce Pieper - the show is terrific fun.
Unfortunately, though, Hess and Vaccaro never gel as a comic team. Neither appears to be enjoying his role when not in drag, and the duo rarely connects with one another, because Hess is playing most of his lines to Vaccaro, while Vaccaro is playing most of his to the back row. Whenever Vaccaro is prepping for a big punchline or double entendre, he takes the briefest of pauses and hurls the line directly into the audience, and while I suppose there's something to be said for mugging this shameless - the crowd did laugh, after all - it's a cheap way to get an audience on your side. The gesture says, "I don't believe in this any more than you do, folks," and Vaccaro is too naturally engaging to need a prop this weak.
Director Kevin Pieper has the daunting challenge of orchestrating movement and stage business for roughly three dozen performers, which he does ably. But with a few exceptions - including the fine Linda McGraw and Kevin Pierce - Sugar's ensemble looks uncertain and even a little frightened; their frozen smiles belie a lack of confidence. (Maybe they were worried about their choreography, as several dance numbers seemed only half-remembered.) Billy Wilder's dizzy dialogue will make it tough for anyone to really dislike Sugar, but only a fully confident cast - one that really lets themselves go - can make the show anything more than a pale imitation of its original.
Tickets to Sugar are available by calling (309)762-6610. For more information on the Quad City Music Guild, visit (http://www.qcmusicguild.com).