SOME LIKE IT HOT Book Writers Amber Ruffin and Matthew López Are 2 Goofballs Ready to Shake Things Up
On a cozy Zoom call in November, Amber Ruffin and Matthew López are being absolutely ridiculous. Among the jokes thrown around: a gallon jug full of vodka disguised as water, a pitch for a hybrid The Ten Commandments/Spanglish Musical, and a contract stipulation that the Tony-winning playwright has to sit at least two seats away from the late-night talk show host at all times.
In between fits of laughter, the pair were able to share their process and thoughts on Some Like It Hot, the musical adaptation opening on Broadway December 11 at the Shubert Theatre. Together, López and Ruffin wrote the book to compliment Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s score.
“We are very bad and we have a lot of fun…We giggle a lot and goof around quite a bit,” says Ruffin. “We’re the 21st century Nichols and May, except no one wants to see us do our act,” adds López. So instead, they’re making other people do their act.
The pair started working on Some Like It Hot a few years ago, first having to exchange email drafts due to the pandemic and busy work schedules. Earlier this year, they finally sat down together to see the results, including at several previews last month. “Amber looks at me and says ‘that’s funny’…and I’m like, ‘yah, you wrote it!,’” Lopez says, laughing.
Both of them had their own previous experience with the original movie that starred Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe—but their journey wasn’t the same at all. Ruffin, hilariously, thought she had seen the movie but actually had not. “I was 100% sure I had seen it a million times before, but then when I watched it, I was like, ‘I don't know about this’... but it was nice to rewrite something that existed because we really did use as little of it as possible. I like to say, ‘we used the skeleton of it and then everything else we changed.’”
Instead of leaning into the film directly, they went the complete opposite direction to rethink the movie from today’s perspective. “The thought of dragging this outdated movie with all the crap that it had in it, into 2022, to me, was a delight,” says Ruffin. “It is great to take your grandfather's favorite thing and make it [yours]. That, to me, was a gift.”
López was concerned with how audiences would respond—but ultimately decided that the best thing they could do would be to flip expectations of those coming to see the show clutching their memories. “I just want for someone to be so angry at us because it’s not the movie that they remember and to just be like, ‘You’ve ruined my favorite film!’ That’s what I want, but from a place of happiness and goodness and not [being] mean to them,” he says.
Then, of course, there’s the man-in-a-dress trope that everyone is worried about. “You can't make a joke of something that you don't think is funny,” López summizes. “What we do think is funny is idiots in trouble… [that’s] always funny.”
Ruffin added that the trope of finding comedy in cross-dressing is striking the lowest common denominator. “Maybe a comedy genius can come up with one man-in-a-dress funny joke that isn't offensive, but that's still a two-and-a-half-hour show with one joke in it, you know? What’s better is... a character whom you have spent the last two and a half hours getting to know, saying something that’s truthful and funny.”
It was a freeing frame of thinking that allowed the pair to dig deeper into the stories rather than setting up pratfalls (although there’s plenty of those, too). Each character has been brought into the 21st century with a modern sensibility for theatre audiences. For example, Sugar, originally played by Marilyn Monroe, is now portrayed as a Black woman, played by Adrianna Hicks.
One of the biggest surprises audiences might discover, however, is NaTasha Yvette Williams’ performance as Sweet Sue, the band leader that Joe/Josephine (Christian Borle) and Jerry/Daphne (J. Harrison Ghee) stumble into. “It began as this the tough lady—she's tough as balls and you don't mess with her,” says Ruffin. “Then she brought this beautiful humanity to her and like this bald desperation that turned her into this full character.”
López explains the character went through several changes, including with development and casting. After several auditions, they still hadn’t found their Sue. Enter NaTasha, and everything clicked into place. “She just took over and it’s everything we wrote. Only NaTasha could create this character who is so tough on them, so mean some times…but she says it out of a place of love. It was very exciting because [its] just love and brutal honesty all rolled into one.”
By allowing these performers to do their own thing with the words they wrote, Ruffin and López might have just crafted the perfect new musical. One for the next generation that will be still familiar to everyone with the movie—and isn’t that just the sweetest?
Some Like It Hot is currently playing on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here.