J. Harrison Ghee Brings His Heat to Broadway's 'Some Like It Hot'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 12, 2022
Originally published on November 3, 2022

J. Harrison Ghee
J. Harrison Ghee  

While Mary Sunshine is the famous drag role in "Chicago," actor J. Harrison Ghee recently brought another of the show's two leads —Velma Kelly — into the drag fold in a St. Louis production of the musical. But breaking gender roles has been key to the non-binary actor's success, first with "Kinky Boots" on Broadway and its international tour, and presently with the choice role of Jerry/Daphne in the new musical version of Billy Wilder's classic 1959 film "Some Like It Hot." In that comedy, two musicians don drag to hide from mobsters in Depression-era Chicago. To escape, they join an all-girl band and head to Miami, where the pair find themselves in romantic mischief in and out of drag.

Landing the role is quite a feat for Ghee in the $17.5 million musical that is set to open on December 11 at the Shubert Theatre. The show's production team definitely leans gay, with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who famously kissed when accepting a Tony Award for their work on "Hairspray" in 2001, and a book by Matthew López, Tony winner for the epic queer drama "The Inheritance," and comedian Amber Ruffin. Joining Ghee is Christian Borle, who plays Joe/Josephine. In the original film, Tony Curtis played Joe/Josephine and Jack Lemmon played Jerry/Daphne, with Marilyn Monroe as Sugar, the band's singer. In the production, Sugar is played by Adrianna Hicks, who recently played Catherine of Aragon in "Six."

But those expecting a Xerox of the film, or a copy of "Sugar," the earlier, lamentable musical adaptation of the film that had a decent Broadway run in 1972 but has received little love since, need to look elsewhere. "Yesterday's ahead of the curve is today's behind the curve," López told Vogue in a recent interview. "There's not a lot on stage that resembles the original," says López. "I'm not interested in being a photocopier." One such change is the move of the band's destination to San Diego instead of Miami because, as director Casey Nicholaw says, "Part of that thinking was, 'If we're going to have an interracial band, let's not point out that they're going through the South.' "

It was in the South — North Carolina — where Ghee grew up, though he left the state when he came of age because he realized there was a lot more for him as a performer and a person elsewhere. And more for him to offer the world: As the son of a minister, his parents instilled in him the value of service to others that he sees as being his role. "This is my ministry, is entertaining and affecting people," Ghee said in a recent episode of The Theatre Podcast with Alan Seales. "I learned that at an early age, that I had that power, and so I don't take it lightly; and it's something that I feel charged to do."

EDGE spoke to Ghee as "Some Like It Hot" heads to its opening to answer questions about the show, the power of his fluidity, and the importance of representation.

J. Harrison Ghee in a publicity shot from "Some Like It Hot"
J. Harrison Ghee in a publicity shot from "Some Like It Hot"  (Source: Instagram)

EDGE: Some consider "Some Like It Hot" to be the greatest comedy ever made. How does this show meet the audience's expectations?

J. Harrison Ghee: In every way. It gives you all of the moments you expect from the movie — the fun, the joy, and [frivolousness] of it all. It's so much fun being a part of this show. We've done our best to make it relevant. People are probably going to ask, "Why are we doing this?" There are so many human stories within the show, and we're excited to share our version of it.

EDGE: Groundbreaking for its time, "Some Like It Hot" is one of the first mainstream movies to tease the idea of homosexuality. What is it like bringing a story like this to the stage?

J. Harrison Ghee: It's exciting for so many reasons. For me, every character and every role teaches me something about myself and helps me grow personally and professionally. Jerry/Daphne has come into my life at this time where I am so confident and so grounded in my fluidity and in my power. I'm excited to be able to share that with others, and to show people that there's more than what they've been told is possible as individual.

Christian Borle, Adrianna Hicks, and J. Harrison Ghee in a publicity shot for "Some Like It Hot"
Christian Borle, Adrianna Hicks, and J. Harrison Ghee in a publicity shot for "Some Like It Hot"  (Source: Instagram)

EDGE: As someone who has performed drag, how have you brought your own experience into the role of Jerry/Daphne?

J. Harrison Ghee: It's been wonderful working with the team and with Matthew López and Amber Ruff. Having them just listening to how I communicate outside of the story and to see how they've woven that into our script and found ways to use language I use every day is amazing. They have really personalized my character and helped me settle into the role even more and feel comfortable in my own skin.

EDGE: You must have limited costume time to transition from Jerry to Daphne and back again. How difficult is that?

J. Harrison Ghee: It's definitely a challenge, but I'm excited for it, and it's going to be great. Greg Barnes and the costume designs are chef's kiss, so it's going to work out perfectly. Always good vibes.

EDGE: The film was not originally a musical. Talk to us about the songs and how they are incorporated into the story.

J. Harrison Ghee: Since I and Christian Borle are both singers and our characters are musicians, the story naturally sings, in a way, already. There's music there. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have done a beautiful job of bringing the story to life through song. There are some incredible dance numbers. Lots of tap. Scott has written some beautiful arrangements and lyrics. It's a joy and a delight to sing them and play around in them.

J. Harrison Ghee
J. Harrison Ghee  

EDGE: What a great ensemble. What is it like working with Christian Borle, Adrianna Hicks, Kevin Del Aguila, and Natasha Yvette Williams?

J. Harrison Ghee: It's a dream! We have the most fun at work. We did a six-week lab earlier this year, and we definitely were putting in the work. It was tiring, and people were doing double duty on other shows, but the love and the support that we have in the room is what you dream of. It's truly a dream team. We love on each other. We really do support each other, and we hold each other's hands through a lot of moments. I couldn't ask for anything better.

EDGE: Seeing yourself represented in art and culture is important. What do you think the theatre needs to continue doing to push the envelope?

J. Harrison Ghee: We have to remain true to what art is. I used to say that I wasn't a political person, but I had a revelation at the beginning of the pandemic, and it was confirmed by a quote from Toni Morrison: "That as artists, our existence is innately political." I understand, as a Black queer human being in this world, if I leave my home I'm making a political statement. So, as artists, we have to be bold enough to continue to create art that causes a conversation. Create something that makes people think, feel, and trust. The audience should leave the theater and continue the conversation. What's been wonderful about this show is that our director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw is so open and available to making sure that we all feel supported and feel seen. The theater community needs to continue to stretch. I never imagined walking in the freedom that I get to walk in every day, growing up in North Carolina, especially having a father who is a pastor in the South. Being representation for others is something I don't take lightly.

EDGE: I read that you're a ramen lover. What's your favorite ramen recipe?

J. Harrison Ghee: I love ramen. I love seeing what kind of ingredients I have in the house and making something out of the ordinary. I love a Tom Yam, which is like a spicy ramen. Since I was a kid, I always loved Top Ramen. Just give me a regular old package of noodles and I am happy. My first professional job was working at Tokyo Disney, and when I tasted the real thing, I loved it even more.

"Some Like It Hot" is now playing at the Shubert Theatre in New York City. For more information about "Some Like It Hot" and to purchase tickets visit, the show's website.