Is it \"Hot\" Onstage at Pit and Balcony, or is Marilyn?

Musical version of \"Some Like It Hot\"

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 669   By: Mark Leffler

09th October, 2008     0

There's a good reason why people worship icons - and not only religious icons. At home and abroad, advertisers, magazine editors and anyone looking to reap some serious coin know that iconic film stars sell. Even if those stars made their names before the advent of color TV.

What becomes a legend most?


Well, the current offering from Saginaw's Pit and Balcony Theatre is a musical version of "Some Like It Hot", the movie the American Film Institute named the #1 comedy film of all time in 2000.

It's also the movie credited with launching the career of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn is currently the subject of a Saginaw Art Museum exhibit. Pit's production was planned over a year ago as a collaborative cross-promotion. The musical will run Friday Oct. 10th, through Sunday, Oct. 12th, and Friday, Oct. 17th, through Sunday, Oct. 19th.

Some Like It Hot features local stage veterans Paul Kostrzewa and Brian Bateson as Joe and Jerry, two fellows who stumble upon the scene of the legendary St. Valentine's Day Massacre, a Chicago gangland slaying. They go on the lam disguised as dames, blending in with an all-doll jazz band.

Do I need to mention that hijinx ensue?

Stasi Schaeffer, herself a longtime P&B actor and sometime director, is directing the show. Schaeffer put her own theatre pursuits in New York City on hold to return to her hometown at the request of Pit's Executive Director Lee-Perry Belleau.

"Lee-Perry called and asked and I really thought it over for a while. Seven weeks is a long time to be gone from New York, but I decided it would be fun to come back and work with friends again at Pit."

Saginaw's Christy Horn takes on the "Marilyn" role of Sugar Kane, who puts the "hot" in "le jazz hot". Joe's attempts to romance the sultry siren are hilariously complicated by his female disguise.

Horn has over a decade of musical theatre experience, including roles in "Grease", "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Cabaret". Her most recent role was in the 303 Collective's production of "Reefer Madness" in 2007.

She acknowledges that portraying a legend is somewhat daunting. "It's difficult to play a character as well known as her because there are certain expectations people have. I'm trying to make the character my own."

Horn watched the original movie and found it "hilarious", and she says she is combining aspects of the character with those of Monroe, so that it's not simply a celebrity imitation.

In another subplot, Jerry is shocked to find himself the object of the affections of one Sir Osgood Fielding, Jr., an elderly gent played by Jerry Bhirdo, also from Saginaw.

Bhirdo, who first hit the P&B stage in the early 60's, is amused to find a certain similarity between playing the oft-married Osgood and his first role onstage.

"I came to Pit for a show called "The Boyfriend". I played an older Englishman who wore a moustache with grey spray in my hair. Now I'm playing an older Englishman with a moustache with grey hair, but I don't need the spray to make my hair grey"

Bhirdo says he was a little uncertain about returning to the Pit stage after an absence of more than thirty years.

"When I first came back after a long hiatus, I was worried that there would be so many ghosts. I'm 73 and a lot of those talented people, a lot of those friends are just not around. But working with this group of younger people, who are very nice, very cooperative, and have such great energy, it makes you feel younger."

"The best part (of being in the show) is the people. And I love the songs, they're spirited and they move along and tell a story. My songs have to do with an older man trying to recapture his youth. There's never a dull moment when Osgood is on stage"

The musical version of Some Like It Hot began as Sugar, a 1972 Broadway musical based on the screenplay for the film, which was written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. The book was written by Peter Stone, the music was by Jule Styne, and the lyrics were by Bob Merrill. The original Broadway show starred Robert Morse (Mad Men) and Tony Roberts (Annie Hall,) as the male leads and 70's game show regular Elaine Joyce in the role of Sugar. Joyce is now married to Neil Simon, himself a Broadway icon.

Europe has a long tradition of theatrical cross dressing, going back to Shakespeare and more recent comics like Benny Hill and Monty Pythons Flying Circus. But Americans are less comfortable with drag humor. When Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon donned wigs, padded bras and high heels in the 1959 Wilder film, it was a gamble that paid off big time.

Gender blending is now a little more acceptable to the American mainstream, with today's audiences having grown up watching British comics like the Pythons and Dame Edna, as well as the cult favorite "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Pop stars such as David Bowie and Boy George shocked in the 70's and 80's with their rumored bisexuality. But today some parents worry that their children might be attracted to the "chic" trend of flirting with bisexuality.

Shaeffer found that she could use the theme of gender confusion to solve a casting dilemma.

"We had auditions and had great talent come out, but as usual I was short on guys, so I really started to think how can I make this work with what I have to work with, because you know the show must go on! So I started to think about the idea of the show, which is that things aren't what they seem-I realized I had a lot of women and if we could do a show where the two male leads dress as women, we could do a show where the women dress as men. So there are very few males in the cast, only where absolutely necessary for the show to make sense."

Another challenge came with costuming the male leads. Costume Coordinator Dot Rogoza has been working with her crew to create clothes with custom undergarments to give Joe and Jerry some curves. And she says it's not that easy finding women's shoes that fit adult men. While the Internet might make such a task easier, it's a bit unnerving to think of the websites one might stumble across in such a search.

Performances will feature a live band, instead of a synthesizer-based score favored by some musicals. Schaeffer considers it vital to the show.

"There is a live orchestra with the show. Pit always uses live music for their musicals. It is very important to have that artistic element I feel and helps to keep things together if there are any incidents during a performance. Noel Howland is the Music Director for rehearsals and Cherry Pink and the Apple Blossoms is the band for performances."

Technical Director Eric Johnston notes that staging "Some Like It Hot" is more complex than the average musical. A Saginaw native, Johnston is finishing his degree at Saginaw Valley State University and was recently hired as Pit's TD.

"When I took this job I realized that my first show was a huge musical. I admit I was a little worried about the scale and complexity of the multiple locations, the set that I have designed takes us from Chicago to Florida and includes 14 scenes of varying locations."

"But then I met the crew. I must have the best crew of any community theatre. I have a group of volunteers that come in every day and work alongside or on their own without any problem. I come in with a list of tasks and discuss my ideas, show them drawings and they take off and get it done. I have been overwhelmed by their ability and commitment. Without my strong group of volunteers I would be in a world of hurt.

"I am also fortunate to have an excellent painter, Mary Swift. She has a brilliant mind and the ability to make a flat wall look like the Taj Mahal hall. So I would like to thank all my volunteers for their hard work and commitment and I look forward to working with them on many more projects."


Days in the Big Apple

As Director Stasi Schaeffer was running final dress rehearsals for Some Like It Hot, she agreed to answer some questions about the production, her experiences as an actor/director, her recent move to New York City, and the current theatre scene in The Big Apple.


Review: Could you list the shows that you've directed in this area?

Stasi Schaeffer: Reefer Madness, Rocky Horror, Topdog/Underdog, Freewheelin' in the Attic of Whim for The 303 Collective. Cabaret, Lucky Stiff, It's a Wonderful Life, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Medium/Suor Angelica for Pit and Balcony. The Music Man for Saginaw Choral Society.


Review: What was it like transitioning from acting to directing?

Schaeffer: It isn't really a transition because I do both-I am focusing on acting in New York City, and continued to act in Saginaw in shows at Pit & The 303. It is more of just looking at a different aspect of theatre. I enjoy both and first starting directing when I was working for For a Good Time Theatre Company with Lee-Perry Belleau. I wasn't really sure about taking it on when I started and was never an actor who "really wanted to direct." But I am a total control freak and I think that is one aspect of being a director so it did fulfill that need, but I really love to do both and hope to continue to have opportunities to work in both areas.


Review: What advantages does having a stage performance background give you as a director?

Schaeffer: I think it is important because you know the process that actors are going through-you also speak the same language and that can make communication easier. I also realize the energy and issues that can go into putting on a great performance and hopefully I am sympathetic to the stresses that actors are going through, but as a director you have many, many more elements you are dealing with at the same time.


Review: What kind of preparation did you do for this show?

Schaeffer: Well I knew the movie, but it had been a long time since I had seen it, so normally I wouldn't watch the film, but I really felt it was important considering the musical is based on the screenplay and is very close to the original, and why mess with perfection? So I watched the film a few times and then put it away. I also had to read the script many, many times and listen to the cast recording because it is not a show I am familiar with. I did some research on the time period and the show and then started working on the actual script blocking, pacing and emotional content.


Review: What is the rehearsal schedule like for this show?

Schaeffer: Monday-Friday 7 pm-10 pm for six weeks!


Review: Who is the costume designer for the show?

Schaeffer: Dot Rogoza is the costume coordinator at Pit, Laura-Jean Kehn is designing and producing the wonderful female performance dresses for the play.


Review: Who is stage managing the show?

Schaeffer: Dawn Morrell and Deena Nicol were the rehearsal stage managers-Deena is going on the road with the national tour of Annie and Dawn is subbing in the show, so Bracha Bade is Production Stage Manager, a bit unorthodox, but we are making it work!


Review: How is P&B doing with volunteers building the sets and working the crews?

Schaeffer: It actually seems to be great, because our set is so extensive we need a backstage crew of 8 and we were able to easily find them-it is almost as many as the number of actors onstage. There are some great builders and painters that I see almost everyday putting in time at the theatre, but with five shows each season, we can always use more!


Review: What has your experience living and working in New York City been like?

Schaeffer: It is wonderful. I really have had the opportunity to see lots of theatre-some great and some terrible, but I have really developed an appreciation for the concentration of talent we have in the tri-cities and the great work that is produced with limited resources. Personally I am out there pounding the pavement and have done some theatre, a couple of indie films and a webisode that is coming out in November called Dead End-it is an improv based series and I am really excited to see the reaction to it because the production values and performances are of a very high quality.


Review: How is Michael Walling doing these days? (Note: New York based Walling directed several critically and commercially successful Pit and Balcony shows in the past decade, including The Music Man and Grand Hotel.)

Schaeffer: Great! He was in Trollwood (Trollwood Performing Arts School in Fargo, North Dakota) this summer and just came back to New York City before I left, so I am looking forward to seeing him when I get back!


Review: What live productions that you've seen recently have impressed you?

Schaeffer: I am a fan of a show called The Jollyship-The Whiz Bang, which is a pirate puppet show with a rock score-it is one of the best things I have seen and if you know me you would be surprised I like it! It is really raw and really creative and it gives me joy!


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