Cole Porter’s 1949 Tony Award-winning
“Kiss Me, Kate,” one of Broadway’s truly witty musicals, is the
season’s second offering at Musicals at Richter, Danbury’s outdoor
summer theater. It’s a double-dose battle of the sexes show-within-a-show,
as wise and tart as ever.
After a lively
but teenybopper-filled “Crazy for You,” Richter has sent most
of the kids to bed and turned the party over to the grown-ups.
And “Kate” is
definitely a grown-up entertainment. Porter’s lyrics were always
clever and often laced with sexy double ¼entendres, but rarely
did the book for his shows match his velvet-glove sophistication.
In Sam and Bella
Spewack’s script for “Kate,” which incorporates Shakespeare’s
“Taming of the Shrew” into a contemporary backstage comedy, he
found the perfect match.
It is set in 1948,
when a musical version of “Shrew” called “Kiss Me, Kate” is going
through the agonies of an out-of-town tryout in Baltimore, a city
that’s the butt of many of the show’s jokes. Rehearsals are complicated
by an ongoing feud between the two stars, Fred Graham (Christopher
Gladysz), and Lilli Vanessi (Rebecca Barko), who were married
but are now divorced.
When the road
show’s secondary leading man, Bill Calhoun (Eddie Lopez), a compulsive
gambler, signs Graham’s name to an IOU, two thugs show up backstage
to collect and turn the usual chaos of a tryout into comic mayhem.
between the actors’ dressing rooms and the onstage performance
of “Kate,” with most of the principals playing dual roles. Gladysz
and Barko, at each other’s throats backstage as Fred and Lilli,
repackage their venom on stage as the shrewish Kate and her determined
In addition to
Calhoun, Lopez is also the Bard’s Lucentio. His girlfriend, Lois
Lane (Elizabeth English), doubles in the Shakespeare as Kate’s
younger sister, Bianca.
though it came late in his career, is one of his best. It’s a
veritable hit parade of songs with “Another Op’nin, Another Show,”
which has become a show business anthem; the sizzling “Too Darn
Hot,” which suggests that libidos, as well as other things, don’t
necessarily rise with the temperature; and the elegant romantic
ballad “So In Love.”
It takes a cast
of strong singers to do justice to Porter’s work. Though it’s
not as tricky, say, as Noel Coward or Stephen Sondheim’s music,
it does demand subtle interpretation.
Gladysz and Barko
are well matched vocally and you won’t miss a syllable even in
the back rows. They’re amusing doing “Wunderbar,” a song from
a show they once starred in, as a duet that hints they still love
He’s funny as
a 16th-century male chauvanist singing “I’ve Come to Wive it Wealthily
In Padua,” and funnier as a 20th-century one as he resignedly
bids farewell to his little black book in “Where is the Life That
Late I Led?” She tears up the scenery in her ode to freedom, “I
As a musical bonus,
Richter regular Priscilla Squiers lends her lovely soprano to
the small part of Hattie the wardrobe mistress, and newcomer Crystal
John, with a voice as clear as crystal, steps out of the chorus
to lead the limber ensemble in “Too Darn Hot.”
Lopez and English
sing adequately as the two younger lovers, but I haven’t a clue
why director Tom Cochrane had her sing “Always True to You Darling
(In My Fashion)” to the audience, alone on stage, instead of to
her miffed boyfriend, Bill.
Lopez also earns
applause for some solo dancing that blends tap with ballet.
versatile sets quickly rotate from theater interiors to a courtyard
in Padua, and the costumes by Bustles & Breeches, especially
those for the Shakespeare sequences, would make the A-list in
No matter who
has the leading role, it’s a given that the two guys assigned
the parts of the gun-toting, Bard-loving hooligans are going to
steal the show. Chris Lieby and Peter M. Lerman achieve the heist
effortlessly and master the show’s true gem — alone worth the
price of admission — “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” nicely nicely,
is efficient even if he’s unable to smooth the seams between ensemble
numbers and smaller scenes. The lack of a curtain and the danger
of moving about on a dark stage make some entrances and exits
more obvious than artistic.
Charles Wade at
the keyboard is the musical director for the show, and his trio
of fellow musicians provide the singers with excellent backup.
This is a well-sung,
well-acted production, and although the little ones may get a
kick out of the fights between the leads and a laugh from the
goony gangsters, this “bonny Kate” is best appreciated by those
over the age of consent.
© 2001 by The News-Times
Kate” plays Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 p.m. through
July 27 at Musicals at Richter, Richter Arts Center, 100 Aunt
Hack Road, off Mill Plain Road on Danbury’s west side. Tickets
are $15, $12 for seniors, $10 for students and children; group
rates are available. Call the box office at (203) 748-6873
or visit www.musicalsatrichter.org.
open at 7:15 for picnicking. Lawn chairs can be rented by