A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Kiss Me Kate
Postscript by Elyse Sommer
We know the story, but if you've been in a coma since 1949 when Kiss Me, Kate won the first Tony Award for Best Musical, the plot is loosely based on the great Shakespearean play. In case you did not pay attention in school, it focuses on what happens to a smart older sister when "The Shrew," Kate, refuses to be married off to any of the dolts her father has chosen for her. Only when the sexy and equally smart Petruchio appears does Kate realize that she has found her equal, for both are tamed by the end of the story in what appears to be a much more exciting and stimulating match than otherwise imagined.
This is the play within the play of Kiss Me, Kate where a battling divorced, but still in love couple (loosely based on the famous acting duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontane) are reunited in a last-ditch effort by the ego-centric Fred Graham (Paul Anthony Stewart) to succeed as an impresario. He has hired his equally passionate and histrionic ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Elizabeth Stanley) to star opposite him.
Of course, complications arise. He has a roving eye; she is engaged to a stodgy Washington bigwig. Can this dissolved marriage be saved? The shenanigans on and off-stage only underscore the chemistry between the couple that all of their bickering cannot deny.
The sub-plot involving the featured performers in the show-within-the-show, Lois Lane (Mara Davi) and Bill Calhoun (Tyler Hanes,) mirrors the Graham/Vanessi battles. She, the-less-than-bright-almost-promiscuous showgirl, wants to tame the gambling-addicted-hoofer. They infuse their songs and dances with energy, especially "Why Can't You Behave."
The show-stopper "Brush Up your Shakespeare," filled with puns revolving around the Bard's works, is performed with charm and gusto by Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan as is their performance as the two gangsters.
Nayla Watson as Hattie is a stand out for "Another Openin', Another Show." When the company performs "It's Too Darn Hot" she and Matthew Bauman as Paul remind us why every member of the company has to be talented and sturdy to sell a number that underscores the problem between our battling couple and the heat of the summer in Baltimore. Inhibitions and clothes peel off in one of the most provocative numbers ever conceived. We can feel the heat and the sex!! Porter's lyrics are tantalizing and never vulgar.
The score is the thing. It is filled with classics such as the romantic "Wunderbar," the doleful "So in Love," Kate's richly comic "I Hate Men," Fred's rueful "Where is the Life that Late I Led?" and Lois's humorous "Always True to You in My Fashion." These and others are rendered by vibrant musical theater voices.
The play is satisfyingly predictable, but who cares? We know the outcome. We came for the songs and dance, and Barrington Stage delivers. Calarco's staging is economical while creating interesting and vibrant stage pictures. His entire cast infuses the show with a wink-of-the-eye and a knowing smile. Lorin Latarro's choreography uses every inch of the stage with a combination of jazz, ballet and athletic feats that dazzle the eye.
The costumes by Amy Clark are colorful and versatile allowing for multi-layering and quick changes which adds to the theatricality of the show. James Kronzers' simple and fluid sets along with Jason Lyons' lighting maintain focus and environment throughout the show.
This Kiss Me, Kate is filled with extraordinary voices from the leads through the ensemble and dancers who fly and grind. It's an old-fashioned romantic and delicious show — perfect for a summer rendezvous.
Postscript by Elyse Sommer
I wasn't here for the opening so now that I've caught up and seen this latest incarnation of Cole Porter's witty spin on Shakespeare's battling lovers, better late than never. But don't make that too late since this is summer theater and even the best shows come and go like summer thunderstorms. Thanks to choreographer Lorin Latarro and the nimble footed ensemble this is as much an eye-popping dancical as a musical chockablock with hummable, stick-to-the-ears hits.
As I feel every time I see a new incarnation of this witty musical, I hope there's an earthwatch room for playwrights and composers in the heavens. If so, surely Cole Porter and Will Shakespeare would be there applauding Barrington Stage for once more mounting it . Maybe Will would turn to Cole and declare "You sure knew how to write show stoppers with lyrics that sizzle with sophistication. And those two guys in the pin striped suits doing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" are something." The ever sophisticated Cole might respond with a tactful "well, your Taming of the Shrew triggered my musical muse with a great play within Bella and Sam Spewack's play.
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