KISS ME KATE
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Sam & Bella Spewack
MainStage Irving-Las Colinas
Produced by Evelyn G. Hall and Joan Eppes
Directed by Doug Miller
Music Director – Mary Medrick
Choreographer – Kelly McCain
Stage Manager – Cathy Parks Bardin
Sound Design – Bill Eichenloff
Lighting Design – Susan White
Set Design – Clair Floyd DeVries
Costume Design – Louise Nelson (Costumes By Dusty)
Dance Captain – Abi Abel
Fred Graham/Petruchio – Jeff Wells
Lilli Vanessi/Kate – Danielle Estes
Bill Calhoun/Lucentio – Jonah Munroe
Lois Lane/Bianca – Rebecca Paige
General Harrison Howell – Keith Warren
Hattie – LaDonna Gaut
Paul – Carlos Brumfield
Gangster #1 – John Tillman
Gangster #2 – Clint Gilbert
Rosie/The Stage Manager – Melissa Tillman
Pops – Scott Bardin
Gregory/Driver – Tom Urrutia
Phillip – Ken O’Reilly
Nathaniel – Jacob Catalano
Harry Trevor/Baptista Minola – Doug Fowler
Flynt/Germio – Javier Casanova
Riley/Hortensio – Jacob Harris
Haberdasher – Chris Edwards
Wardrobe Lady – Laurel Collins
Abi Abel, Giselle Drake, Margaret Vogel, Emily Emmett, Rema Martinez, Elissa Roberts, Ashlie Kirkpatrick, Tori Micaletti
Lois Lane/Bianca - Tori Micaletti, Hattie – Laurel Collins, General Harrison Howell – Jacob Catalano
Keyboard – Mary Medrick
Bass – Phillip Friend
Trumpet – Lacey Hayes
Trombone – Michael Medrick
Percussion – Rod Kile
Reviewed Performance: 11/4/2018
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Kiss Me Kate is a beautiful musical that uses the Bard’s work to parallel the “real life” of the actors on stage. The original Broadway production opened on December 30, 1948, at the New Century Theatre, where it ran for nineteen months before transferring to the Shubert, for a total run of 1,077 performances. The story is timeless; how do men and women truly interact and how should they. It has the distinction of being the first to win the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949. Also, the 1949 original cast recording has been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for the album's "cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation's audio legacy". What that means to the layman is, the music is better than excellent.
If by some chance you have not seen “Kiss Me Kate” in the last seventy years, a quick synopsis...
The touring company performing a musical version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is about to open their stint in Baltimore with dreams of bringing the show to Broadway. The show is produced, directed by the oh-so-confident Fred Graham (Jeff Wells) who has cast himself as the star of the play-within-the-play, Petruchio. Lilli Vanessi (Danielle Estes), his very bitter ex-wife, is playing Katherine in ‘Shrew’. Lois Lane (Rebecca Paige) plays Bianca in ‘Shrew’ and her love interest in ‘Shrew’ is Lucentio (Jonah Munroe) who also happens to be her boyfriend, Bill Calhoun. Therein lies the whole life imitating art scenario.
Bill has signed a $10,000, about $100,000 in today’s money, gambling IOU in Fred’s name and two gangsters show up at the theatre to collect it. Hey it’s 1948 so we need gangsters in the show, right? They are there strictly for the comic relief but end up with one of the most iconic Broadway songs of the 20th century, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” in the second act. John Tillman and Clint Gilbert are as perfect a duo of forties gangsters as you could ask for. Tillman’s Tyrone Power/James Cagney delivery was so enjoyable and when he and Gilbert did their version of “Brush up Your Shakespeare” I was laughing out loud especially with their encores. A definite highlight of the show.
One of the reasons the album was inducted into the Library of Congress is there are so many perfect examples of American Musical Theatre songs on it. “Another Op’nin’, Another Show’, “I hate Men”, (a song that gets an entirely different response from the audience in 2018 than it did in 1948 I think) “Too Darn Hot”, “Always True To You (in My Fashion)” and of course, “Brush Up..” are quintessential examples of the Broadway genre of midcentury musical theatre. Every one of these numbers and actually the entire score was performed flawlessly by this impeccable cast. The entire cast is a granite solid acting troupe with nary a weak spot.
Danielle Estes has a classic Broadway belting voice that fills Dupree Theatre with music. Even her speaking voice was strong and pronounced. She could sing the phone book and sell out a theatre. Rebecca Paige is right there with her. Although her role as Lois doesn’t require the big diva voice, she still carried her songs with power, poise and presence that made her a joy to listen to with every note. Munroe and Wells were great with their baritones resonating off the walls of the audience. It did seem that Wells might have been holding back just a bit as there were a few times I wanted just a little more power particularly on his final notes of “Where is the LifeThat Late I Led” and the reprise of “So in Love”. But seriously, two sexy men, two sexy women, four sexy voices... not much wrong there.
Carlos Brumfield gets a chance to shine with the extremely fun “Too Darn Hot”. The first time I ever remember seeing that number performed was by Liza Minnelli in the 1980 TV special, Baryshnikov on Broadway. The Cole Porter classic syncopation makes this number captivating to the ear and Brumfield dives in and sells it from the first note to the last. Porter’s music is also visually stunning if the choreography can keep up and Kelly McCain does a wonderful job with this number and all the production numbers of the show. Her style is very true to the classic Broadway heyday shows and the MGM musicals. The ensemble and dancers moved beautifully and energetically around the stage. Another highlight of the show.
The one place where McCain faltered a little was when she was constrained by the set in the smaller solo and duet scenes. The “Wunderbar” sequence in the very tiny dressing room set was clunky and limited and just not fun. It would have been so much better if she would have been allowed to suspend the belief of the dressing room and let the actors out onto the apron to stretch their wings and their dancing ability. Likewise, the encore of “Always True to You” pushed Ms. Paige in front of the Grand Drape where Lois continued to sing to two unresponsive costume men. That particular sequence surpassed clunky and approached strained.
I am really not sure why the Grand Drape was closed so often for scene changes. It got to the point where it interrupted the flow of an otherwise glorious show. This really is my only big complaint on the show. There were so many good things about this production that this one thing doesn’t distract that much on the whole.
One thing that was outstanding was the costume design. Louise Nelson basically has two productions to worry about with this show. The “modern” look of 1948 and the Italian Renaissance look for the ‘Shrew’ portions of the show. MainStage acknowledges the assistance of Costumes By Dusty for this show so I am not sure how much was created for this show and how many pieces are part of Dusty’s extensive collection. Regardless, the total look was cohesive and brought the colors of the set and lights full circle to complete the visual of the performance. I especially liked the monotone skirts the ensemble used in their 1948 production numbers. Just their placement on the stage for the overall appearance was enough to make me take notice of the costuming design.
Many community theatres used canned music as do a few regional venues. Touring companies always use a live orchestra but usually they are so heavily miked that when blended with miked performers it sounds canned. This orchestra was live, and even if they were miked, it did not come through the speakers like they were. It was LIVE musical theatre and I relished every minute of it. I was wholly astonished when I looked at my program and realized there were only five musicians in the pit. It sounded like a complete orchestra and it sounded good. The acoustics in the Dupree are finely tuned and what a pleasure it was to experience old-school, musicians-in-a-pit with the actors singing over the top of them. Mary Medrick has firmly planted herself at the top of my Column Award list for Music Direction. Brava! Excellent!
The Dupree Theatre is a medium-sized venue, 253 seats, but the stage is enormous for that size of an audience. What that affords is space to move, dance and play with abandon. The production numbers filled the space and during the ‘Shrew’ parts of the show the actors were free to over-gesticulate in true Shakespearean fashion.
There are several galleries and venues at the Irving Arts Center so when you go see this show, remember that the Dupree entrance is furthest from MacArthur basically in the back of the building.
MainStage has brought together an amazing collection of talent for this show. There are just not enough good things to say about the actors appearing in this production. Each one a gem in their own right but together they make Kiss Me Kate a royal diadem of DFW theatre.
"Kiss Me Kate" plays through Sept 29th at MainStage Irving/Las Colinas in the Dupree Theatre in Irving Arts Center 3333 North MacArthur BLVD, Irving TX.
NOVEMBER 2-17, 2018
All evening performances 7:30 PM. Sunday matinées 2:30 PM.
Tickets $24 - 31
To purchase tickets, visit www.irvingtheatre.org or call the Box Office @ 972-252-2787.