Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Kiss Me, Kate"

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Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


music and lyrics by Cole Porter
book by Samuel and Bella Spewack

directed by Alan Coats
choreography by Lee Wilkins
musical direction by Antony Geralis

Hattie … Carolyn Saxon
Paul … Erich McMillan-McCall
Ralph (Stage Manager) … Paul D. Farwell
Lois Lane … Deb Leamy
Bill Calhoun … Sean Palmer
Lilli Vanessi … Rachel deBenedet
Fred Graham … George Dvorsky
Harry Trevor … Dick Decareau
Pete … J. T. O’Connor
Cab Driver … Brian Kremer
First Man … David Coffee
Second Man … David Dollase
Harrison Howell … James Van Treuren
Flynt … Jeremy Davis
Riley … Patrick Wetzel

“Taming of the Shrew” Players:

Bianca … Deb Leamy
Baptista … Dick Decareau
Gremio … Patrick Wetzel
Hortensio … Jeremy Davis
Lucentio … Sean Palmer
Katherine … Rachel deBenedet
Petruchio … George Dvorsky
Gregory … Patrick Mullaney
Philip … Edward M. Barker
Nathaniel … Steve Petrillo
Haberdasher … J. T. O’Connor


Sarah Anderson; Edward M. Barker; Jeremy Davis; Paul D. Farwell; Liane Grasso;
Ashley Hull; Brian Kremer; Patrick Mullaney; J. T. O’Connor; Christine Pardilla Reeds;
Steven Petrillo; Ami Price; Melissa Swender; Patrick Wetzel; Jessica Wright


Conductor … Antony Geralis
Reed 1 … Robert Bowlby, Jr.
Reed 2 … Ernest Sola, III
Reed 3 … Rod Ferland
Reed 4 … Richard Schwartz
Trumpet 1 … Jay Daly
Trumpet 2 … Charles Lewis
French Horn … Alyssa Coffey
Trombone … Walter Bostian
Violin … Lucy Pope
Violin; Viola … Nathaniel Farney
Bass … Richard Appleman
Percussion … Mark Worgaftik
Keyboard … Janet Glazener Roma

The trouble with a theatre warhorse is that one assumes it will always be playing somewhere, so there’s no rush to see any particular production. Well, you would be wise to catch Cole Porter’s KISS ME, KATE at the North Shore Music Theatre for it is done up in style, in period and in joy. I had known KISS ME, KATE only from its original cast recording and the censored 1953 film adaptation (those racy lyrics!) and was familiar with this tale of Fred Graham, an actor/director, and Lilli Vanessi, his ex-wife/leading lady, clashing onstage and off during a performance of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW; the stage version reveals KISS ME, KATE to be Mr. Porter’s masterpiece (at least in terms of “book” musicals; his Merman shows --- pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein --- are more revue-like), chockfull of standards that range from ballads to operetta to nightclub samba to vaudeville and worn hand-in-glove with Samuel and Bella Spewack’s wisecracking libretto (now dated, but delightfully so). This past year, I have witnessed four established musicals filtered through dark directorial visions with unhappy results; rest assured, North Shore doles out the valentines and a good time is had by all. To quote director Alan Coats, “The show itself is the reason to see ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’ It’s that simple.” Doing KISS ME, KATE in period and with plenty of heart only doubles its treasures in the current anthems-and-aerobics atmosphere --- what pleasure to hear a good dozen songs one can go out humming (including “From This Moment On”, added to give Lilli’s fiancé a crack at singing) and be entertained with Lee Wilkins’ dance numbers that are friendly, jazzy and sexy rather than in-your-face and “hot” (even the dancers’ physiques are more or less in period; i.e., toned but slender, allowing them to jump, tumble and soar; the last dance ensemble I encountered was predominantly top-heavy in the arms and shoulders --- too much weight-lifting? --- not surprisingly, they remained earthbound).

The Messrs. Coats and Wilkins, along with the invaluable services of set designer Tal Sanders, keep the clockwork flowing, especially in the opening number where the entire ensemble is introduced in passing --- there is much lusty jumping on top of furniture throughout the evening --- and Martin Pakledinaz and Gerard Kelly have come up with wonderfully nostalgic costumes and wigs; Mr. Pakledinaz’s “Shrew” costumes are good enough to be worn by a regular Shakespearean troupe. There are two nitpicks: the minor numbers “Too Darn Hot”, “Always True to You (In My Fashion)” and “Bianca” suffer from over-fussing and with too many bodies about, and there is little chemistry between George Dvorsky and Rachel deBenedet as Fred and Lilli. Ms. deBenedet comes off the better: she is quite funny as one of those beautiful-when-angry bitches (observe two different sets of body movements when the Shrew gives way to a fuming actress) and has two indelible moments: “So In Love” where its wash of sudden emotion makes all that has preceded it seem trivial, and her long, long, lonnnnnnnnnnng held note during “I Hate Men”, which stops the show. Ideally, Fred and Lilli would be played as two people who could eat each other up, in love or in rage; here, Ms. deBenedet is doing all the devouring --- Mr. Dvorsky, tall, handsome and in fine voice, seems reluctant to stick his hand into the cage; he does much better in his Shrew-free solos. The supporting cast is golden.

Prithee, go! And bring along the youngsters (these days, anyone under thirty) so they can experience a well-crafted, old-fashioned musical, performed as it should be --- and should they gasp, "Oh, wow --- it's like HAIRSPRAY!", well, it's a start.

"Kiss Me, Kate" (27 April-16 May)
62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY, MA
1 (978) 232-7200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide