It may not be set to open on Broadway for another year, but the stage version of “Some Like It Hot” announced on Wednesday that it had added Amber Ruffin as a co-writer. The comedian and writer becomes the first Black woman to join the creative team for the new musical, which she called a “groundbreaking project.”
“It’s just the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said of joining the musical.
Ruffin, who writes, hosts, and executive produces the late-night comedy talk show “The Amber Ruffin Show” on Peacock, will co-write the book with Matthew López, whose two-part play “The Inheritance,” about the legacy of AIDS, is currently up for 11 Tony Awards. Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon,” “The Prom”) will direct.
The musical, which is based on the classic cross-dressing comedy that starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, tells the story of two Chicago friends, Joe and Jerry, who disguise themselves as women and join an all-female jazz band to escape the city after witnessing a Mafia murder. Complications ensue as Joe pretends to be a millionaire as he courts the band’s singer, Sugar, and Jerry finds himself pursued by a real millionaire as the mobsters give chase.
Neil Meron, who will produce the musical with the Shubert Organization, said that the character of Sugar was conceived as a Black woman from day one — and that Ruffin’s input was crucial to creating an honest representation.
“Matthew felt, like we all did, that since our show now deals with race, especially as Sugar is now a Black woman, we needed the authenticity that Amber’s voice will bring to our musical,” he said in an email.
And while the adaptation will still be set in the past, Ruffin said it will reflect America now.
“We just talk about everything honestly,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “Lots of times you see a movie that takes place in a more racist time, and no one says anything. Black people just move around the world freely, and that was almost never the case. That’s almost never the case now. We’re just very honest about what people’s lives were like.”
López said he was attracted by the opportunity to consider Prohibition-era America for a contemporary audience.
“As a queer BIPOC writer, it is an exciting proposition to create a show with characters whose race is instrumental and not incidental to the story,” he said in a statement. (The acronym stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.)
Even with Broadway shut down by the pandemic, the theater world has faced intensified scrutiny over representation, both onstage and behind the scenes. A coalition of theater artists posted a 29-page set of demands online in July that, among other things, called for half the members of casts and creative teams to be people of color.
“Some Like It Hot” also announced on Wednesday that Kenny Leon will come aboard as a producer. Leon, a Tony winner and among the pre-eminent Black directors in the business, has been in high demand as a creative force even during the current shutdown; in December he was named senior resident director for the Roundabout Theater Company.
Among the other producers are the Broadway veterans Roy Furman, Robert Greenblatt and the Nederlander Organization. Ruffin said it was to the team’s credit that the project, her first for Broadway, came her way.
“When people can look around and see the voices they need, and actually go and get them versus just talking, that’s when you know you’re joining a good environment where your voice is going to be heard and respected,” she said.
“Some Like It Hot” was adapted for the stage evvel before. “Sugar,” as it was called, opened on Broadway in 1972; 30 years later, a 77-year old Curtis toured in a version under the film’s original title.
Initially slated for a pre-Broadway Chicago run this spring, the new musical is now set to begin Broadway performances in 2022 — fingers crossed. But López said he looked forward to collaborating with Ruffin, no matter how far off opening night might be.
“I cannot wait to huddle in the back of the theater with her every night and work with her to continue to make this show the thing we all set out to create,” he said.