Amber Ruffin is partnering with Matthew López to adapt film classic “Some Like It Hot” for the stage. The new stage adaptation will also feature music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman, the team behind “Hairspray,” as well as direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw, who previously guided “The Book of Mormon” to box office riches. López wrote “The Inheritance,” an epic look at the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, which is currently nominated for 11 Tony Awards.
Ruffin, an Emmy Award winner, got her big break as a writer on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” She currently hosts “The Amber Ruffin Show,” a late night series that airs on NBC’s streaming service Peacock.
“I’ve been trying to break into musicals for quite a while now, so when this opportunity came along, I jumped at the chance!,” Ruffin told Variety in an email. “I couldn’t pass up the chance to work with people whose work I admire. And, now that I’ve gotten to work with them, I feel like I’ve made some real friends.”
The Broadway musical will put a twist on the Billy Wilder movie by featuring Black actors in key roles, including the part originally played by Marilyn Monroe.
“When I started working on the show and was asked to join this amazing team, my question was the original movie, it’s a classic, how can hope to improve it or put our own stamp on it?” López told Variety. “As a person of color, as a queer Latinx writer, I wanted to create a show I would have loved to have seen when I was younger. This impulse also helped answer the question: how do you re-imagine the role of Sugar that moves us away from Marilyn Monroe? The answer I arrived at was that Sugar should be a Black woman — a jazz singer, a dancer with dreams of movie stardom. In other words, her own woman.”
“Some Like it Hot” has been in the works since before the pandemic, but following the Black Lives Matter protests, López came to believe that the creative team behind the musical wasn’t reflective of the story they wanted to put on stage. Both Wittman and Shaiman are white.
“There’s been this titanic shift in American culture since last summer,” López said. “There has been a sea change in the way many Americans understand and talk about race. I was watching that unfold and it made me think about Broadway and the way the New York theater community has a responsibility to reflect the society it purports to be speaking to. I came to see that if we were to honor our commitment to tell the story of a Black woman with honesty and integrity, it required a Black creative voice on the team.”
The Billy Wilder film was a farce, set in 1929 in the midst of Prohibition and right before the market crash that triggered the Great Depression. The musical will unfold in 1933 as Prohibition is ending and after years of economic hardship. López says that the show will grapple with race as part of its reimagining.
“You can’t ignore it — especially when you’re writing about jazz musicians in 1930s America,” he says. “We are past the point where it’s sufficient to simply put people of color on stage and think you’ve done all you can. It is at this point quite literally the least you can do. And I knew that we had to do better than that.”
Ruffin promises that the show will also feature plenty of the big numbers that Broadway audiences have come to expect from their musicals.
“The characters in the musical are pretty different from the movie,” she wrote. “These characters are the main reason for my joining the project. It’s an old-timey vibe with real, honest characters and that feels great. A real big difference between the movie and the musical is the songs for this musical! Y’all, these songs make me so happy. There’s these beautiful, fresh numbers, there’s numbers that make you feel like you can sing along, and there’s dancing that makes my jaw drop.”
In addition to Ruffin, “Some Like it Hot” has enlisted Kenny Leon, the Tony winning director of “A Raisin in the Sun,” as a producer.
“As we continue the development of ‘Some Like it Hot,’ we are thrilled that the talented and hilarious Amber Ruffin is joining our outstanding creative team and the extraordinary Kenny Leon is joining our producing team,” said producers Bob Wankel and Neil Meron. “We warmly welcome them both to our ‘Some Like It Hot’ family.”
Other producers include the Shubert Organization, Roy Furman, Robert Greenblatt and the Nederlander Organization.