Musicals at Richter

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Kiss Me Kate

Press Release:

‘Kate’ delivers feuding, fussing and fun, plus great music
By Chesley Plemmons
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC
2002-07-19

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.

Scenes alternate 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 defanger Petruchio.

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.

Porter’s score, 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 each other.

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 Hate Men.”

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.

Reid Thompson’s 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 Stratford-on-Avon.

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, thank you.

Cockrane’s direction 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.

  • “Kiss Me, 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.

    The grounds open at 7:15 for picnicking. Lawn chairs can be rented by advance reservation.

copyright © 2001 by The News-Times

 

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