Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Kiss Me, Kate
Also see Fred's review of Madagascar
Porter wrote the music and lyrics while Bella and Samuel Spewack provide the book, which evolves as actors prep for a musical version of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Fred Graham (Paul Anthony Stewart) and his former wife Lilli Vanessi (Elizabeth Stanley) are now set to play Petruchio and Kate in the Shakespeare. They battle it out constantly and Lilli pummels Fred with various slaps and smacks. Meanwhile, it's clear that Fred has had more than a passing interest in sweet Lois Lane (Mara Davi), who is playing Bianca. Unfortunately, her boyfriend Bill (Tyler Hanes), additionally taking on Lucentio, is committed to a hefty IOU with a couple of ludicrous gangsters, played by Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan. Their imaginative outfits and everyone else's are supplied by costumer Amy Clark.
Those familiar with the Bard's comedies will be able to find and follow the plot of Shrew even as it is interspersed within the context of the musical. The story line is replete with all types of comedy and much frolicking. With a late 1940s run on Broadway, the original production must have pushed the envelope just a bit in terms of bad and bawdy motif.
Some plays take a little while to get off the mark but BSC's rendering of Kiss Me, Kate absolutely flies out of the creative starting gate in fifth gear. "Another Op'nin', Another Show," featuring the entire company of actors, is an absolute blast. That is simply a kick-start to nearly three hours of spectacular theater. Designer James Kronzer must move quickly as first act scenes shift from the backstage area and dressing rooms of a Baltimore theater to Padua and the Shakespeare. Other early winning numbers include "Why Can't You Behave?" with Davi and Hanes, "Wunderbar" (Stewart and Stanley), and Elizabeth Stanley delivering the goods with vigor on a solo "I Hate Men."
The soaring moments of a lengthy "Too Darn Hot," just after intermission, are nothing short of thrilling. Actor Matthew Bauman (as Paul) leads an agitating, gyrating, glowing group of actor/singer/dancers through a rendition of this tune which is fully memorable. No theatergoer will get enough of this erotic, highly disciplined workout. This writer cannot recall witnessing a musical theater rendition any better. Oh, to have been that fly on the wall in a certain rehearsal room as "Too Darn Hot" came together. Attend a performance and you, too, will envy these youthful, athletic dancers.
The final portion of the show, complete with further sub-plotting, allows Stewart to shine on "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?." The absurdist bad guy/thugs, actors Lopez and Morgan, take over, near the evening's conclusion, with the familiar "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." The finale, too, is high octane. During a recent matinee, with a later performance beckoning, more than a few dancers stayed on stage whirling and spinning as the figurative curtain drew down.
Backing the strong array of performers are 12 pit musicians led by music director Cohen. The mix is excellent. Suffice to say that lead actors Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart set the talent bar quite high. Everyone else follows suit and that includes Nyla Watson as Hattie, ensemble members such as Brittany Bohn, Adrienne Howard, Amanda LaMotte, and many more.
Research indicates that Kiss Me, Kate occurs between 5:00 p.m. and midnight at Ford's Theatre. In 1935, a producer named Saint Subber, then a stagehand for Theater Guild's The Taming of the Shrew, noted that legendary stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne tended to bicker both on and off stage. Subber and Lemuel Ayers produced the very first Kiss Me, Kate.
Artistic Director Julianne Boyd, as she has since her company opened 20 years ago, keeps it coming with another magnificent musical.
Kiss Me, Kate continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through July 12th, 2014. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.
- Fred Sokol