Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Kiss Me, Kate is about the on and off stage antics of a recently divorced couple starring in an out-of-town tryout of a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1948 (when the show is set), won the 1949 Tony Award for Best Musical.
The book for the musical was written by husband and wife team Sam and Bella Spewack. It was inspired by accounts of actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne during their 1935 production of The Taming of the Shrew. The writers captured the love-hate relationship that many couples experience, and conveyed just as much about relationships through the onstage story-within-a-story as they do in the backstage scenes. There's conflict, sex appeal, and humor as well. However, the story feels somewhat dated, which may be why Kiss Me, Kate doesn't receive as many productions as other classic musicals. Some of the messages about women and men, as well as the treatment of females in general, don't align very well with the #metoo movement. A few lines about protecting Second Amendment rights also ring as awkward. The inclusion of a romantic secondary couple, along with comedic gangsters, fits in a formula specifically tailored to shows of decades gone by (similar to another Cole Porter show, Anything Goes, and mocked so brilliantly in The Drowsy Chaperone).
This was Cole Porter's most successful theatrical score. His witty and efficient wordplay fits well with the high energy melodies he crafted for the songs. The first number of each act, "Another Op'nin, Another Show" and "Too Darn Hot," are musical theater classics and great ways to start (and restart) the action. Other song highlights include "Why Can't You Behave?," "Always True to You in My Fashion," and the comedic vaudevillian turn "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
NKU Director Corrie Danieley has a connection to the most recent Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate, as her sister-in-law Marin Mazzie starred in that production. Ms. Danieley provides a mostly traditional presentation of the material, but with a few of her own special tweaks included as well. She has captured the appropriate tone and brings out committed performances from her actors. The choreography by Rachel Perin is well suited to the material, with standouts being "Tom, Dick, or Harry" and "Too Darn Hot." Damon Stevens leads a great sounding 11-piece orchestra.
Leading the NKU cast are two wonderfully talented sophomores. Alexander Slade skillfully captures the bravado and presence of Fred (also his onstage role Petruchio), and his booming baritone singing voice is a pleasure to hear. As Lilli/Katherine, Sally Modzelewski displays both the soft and angry sides of the characters, while supplying beautiful vocals throughout. Natalie Bellamy impresses as Lois/Bianca by dancing up a storm and proving to be a more than capable singer as well. Trase Milburn (Bill/Lucentio) does well with an underdeveloped part, showing off some great dancing. Ella Rivera (Hattie) and Kaleb King (Paul) make the most of their big numbers that start each act, while Kevin Birdwhistell and Ben Cohen get lots of laughs as the gangsters with a flair for the Bard. The hard-working ensemble deserves much praise as well.
The straightforward set by Ronald A. Shaw is what's typically seen for the show, and features some subtle details and a pleasing color scheme. The attractive costumes by Ronnie Chamberlain are period appropriate (for both settings). Ronald Shaw's lighting is apt and professionally rendered.
Kiss Me, Kate may feel somewhat dated, but NKU provides a fine mounting of the show, in part due to an impressive pair of young performers in the leading roles.
Through April 29, 2018, at NKU Corbett Theatre in Highland Heights KY. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatre.nku.edu or call 859-572-5464.