KISS ME, KATEMusic and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Plaza Theatre Company
Director – G. Aaron Siler
Choreographer –Tiffany Mullins
Musical Director – Cheri Dee Mega
Costume Design– Kara Barnes
SoundDesign/Light Design – G. Aaron Siler
Set Design –JaceSon P. Barrus and G. Aaron Siler
CAST for reviewed performance (Some roles were Double cast):
Fred Graham/Patruchio – JaceSon P. Barrus
Lilli Vanessi/Katharine – Daron Cockerell
Lois Lane/Bianca – Carlee Cagle
Bill Calhoun/Lucentio – Jonathan Metting
Hatti – Kristi Taylor
Ralph (Stage Manager) – Jesse Bowron
First Man – Michael D. Durington
Second Man – G. Aaron Siler
Harry Trevor/Baptista – Tom Cockerell
Pops (Stage Doorman) – Jamie Long
General Harrison Howell/Cab Driver – Robert Shores
Wardrobe/Padua Waitress/Singer – Brittany Holcomb
Hotensio (Second Suitor) – Levi King
Haberdasher – Jamie Long
Padua Waitress/Singer – Stacey Greenawalt
Maiden Dancers – Nichole McDonald and Ashlyn Keith
Photo Credit: Stacey Greenawalt
Reviewed Performance: 3/15/2014
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In 1948, after a slew of flops, Porter presented this musical, his first “new style” of musical with songs written to integrate into the story, first created by Rodgers and Hammerstein with Oklahoma. It was an unprecedented success, winning the first Tony Award ever given for Best Musical in 1949. It was made into the 1953 film of the same name, starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, directed by George Sidney, and choreographed by Bob Fosse.
The musical is an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew about a recently divorced acting couple brought back together to play the lead roles in a musical version of the aforementioned Shakespeare play. Hijinks ensue as the play within the play’s Producer/Director/Leading Man is saddled into a gambling debt he did not create and bullied by a pair of mobsters, while his estranged wife/co-star threatens to walk out on the show. Things end on a happy note with the mobsters averted and the foreshadowed “shrew” being tamed.
Direction and choreography are supremely well done for the in-the-round configuration of Plaza Theatre Center. All sides of the audience are given equal “face time” with the action on the stage. In “We Open in Venice”; the actors turn a different direction for each verse. Even the set design takes this into account. The dressing room/split set has the actors facing in opposite directions so that no one misses out on the plot or seeing at least half of the cast.
Set design is kept simple, no cluttering the stage and leaving plenty of room for dancing and movement. This also allows pieces of scenery to not block views. Most scenes involve the entrances and exits, which have archways during the Taming of the Shrew scenes to differentiate what's happening “on stage” in the play as opposed to the musical’s action. The most elaborate set is the dressing room which features a door jaggedly cut in half to create the illusion of a full door so as to not block views. In all areas of direction and design, G. Aaron Siler shows that he is an expert with this difficult stage lay out.
Costume design for this production is pretty good. The Shakespearean costumes are appropriate, with great attention paid to Katharine and Bianca's costumes. Unfortunately, Katharine's purple dress in the first act underwent an apparent emergency costume fix during the reviewed performance. The modern costumes for the backstage scenes were fine Special attention is paid to period-appropriate hairstyles, while slacks and shirts for the men or dresses and dressing gowns for the women are period accurate. The biggest misstep is the General's uniform. An analogue for Gen. MacArthur, he strides in without a single medal or adornment on his shirt. Not even a single star on his collar, the simplest mark of a general, appears. His plain khaki uniform is fine but is a glaring oversight in an otherwise good work.
Lighting for the show is also adequate. There were moments in the reviewed performance I wasn’t certain if the darkness was a design flaw or a missed light cue. Daron Cockerell also finished delivering her lines in the dressing room in what is probably scene change lighting. Later, during “I Hate Men,” some lighting angles leave her face in shadow.
The choreography is fun and Fosse-inspired, and the actors do their best to keep up. The dance steps are intricate, and at times it's apparent they are not experienced enough for them. During “Tom, Dick, or Harry,” Jonathan Metting attempts to do a roll across Levi King's back, kicking his feet into the air. Instead he does more of a wind-milling hop near King. Little things like this are not disastrous but do lower the quality of the show.
The singing throughout the musical is fantastic. The actors are singing along with music tracts which are perfectly cued and well balanced. However, there are multiple instances when the ensemble seems not familiar with their parts. Many times they missed the start of a phrase and then caught up once they realized what line they should be on.
2014 COLUMN Award winner Daron Cockerell turns in one of the greatest performances possible as Lilli Vanessi/Katharine. She's spiteful and full of hate, while still hilarious, with well-placed jabs of humor. Her song, “I Hate Men”, is one of the best musical performances of the year.
Opposite her, as Fred Graham, is JaceSon P.Barrus who wonderfully keeps pace with Cockerell's tour de force performance, but sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the action happening around him His seems more of a supporting role than a leading man, setting up scenarios for those around him to play out. His singing and mannerisms are spot on for the character but needs greater leading man qualities to pull off the role.
As the mobsters shaking down Fred Graham, Michael D. Durington and G. Aaron Siler steal the show in any scene they're in. It's impossible to not follow their every move to see what wacky thing they do next. The bit where Durington tries to signal Siler to put his gun away, but Siler doesn’t understand, works wonderfully and draws great laughs from the audience. They are a great comedic pair and their rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is fun and silly.
Carlee Cagle plays cute show girl, Lois Lane, and performs “Always True to You in my Fashion” stunningly. Jonathan Metting (who earned a 2014 COLUMN Award in February) is her scheming beau, Bill Calhoun, who has the gambling debt he passes on to Fred Graham. His performance is great for the character His swagger as the classic bad boy is impeccable. They are a fine pair that does a fantastic job in supporting roles.
A special mention goes to Tom Cockerell and his unapologetic Texas accent, which cracked me up. One of the funniest moments of the show follows a great scene with Daron Cockerell and Barrus - Tom Cockerell comes onstage and delivers a line of Shakespearean dialogue with his accent which lands on the ears like the punch line of a sensational joke - it is beautiful.
Amazing performances, great music and scenery, and fine dancing, despite a couple minor missteps, makes Kiss Me Kate at Plaza Theatre Company a first-class musical. Daron Cockerell's performance is astonishing and G. Aaron Siler's direction is near perfection. I highly recommend the drive down to Cleburne to see this show.
Plaza Theatre Company
111 S. Main Street, Cleburne, TX 76033
Runs through April 12th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, and Saturday matinee at 3:00pm. Ticket prices are $15.00, seniors (65+)/students (HS and college) are $14 .00, and children (12 and under) are $13 .00.
Tickets may be purchased by calling PTC’s box office at 817- 202-0600 or by going online: http://www.plaza-theatre.com/