note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Susan Daniels
(This review originally appeared in the3/25 issue of the South End News.)
Talent and timing seem to be the underpinnings of “Kiss Me, Kate,” the classic musical comedy based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” currently receiving a stellar treatment at the opening of North Shore Music Theatre’s (NSMT) 50th anniversary season. In the play within the play, both elements are abundantly present, beginning with the performances of Rachel deBenedet and George Dvorsky, the two leads who engage in verbal and physical combat, and continuing through the ranks of the 23-member supporting ensemble who act, sing and dance with polish and panache.
As the feuding couple, deBenedet and Dvorsky inhabit the dual roles of Lilli Vanessi/Katharine Minola and Fred Graham/Petruchio, respectively, as smoothly as the black, elbow-length gloves she gracefully wears in the opening scene and as colorfully as the 16th century threads he jauntily sports in the closing number. Their off-stage histrionics provide the fodder for their on-stage performances, eventually blurring the line between the two, which results in some entertaining verbal and physical skirmishes -- the latter, no doubt, considered hilarious and risque in 1948 when the show debuted.
Individually, they command the theater-in-the-round stage: deBenedet as the head strong, combatative, outspoken diva/shrew -- in today’s guise, she probably would be labeled a feminist; and Dvorsky as the head strong, outspoken, combatative director/suitor -- in 21st century lexicon, he most likely would be considered an abusive husband. Together, they glide through their lines and numbers with a chemistry so palpable that one might think the two truly are a pair and not just the on-stage divorced couple who still harbor affections for each other. Cole Porter’s melodic music and clever lyrics offer ample opportunities for stand-out numbers. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” the show-stopper performed by NSMT favorite David Coffee as First Man and David Collase as Second Man, paired the gangster cum thespians in a hilarious riff of the Bard’s verbiage mangled with thug-like tough talk.
The classic number “Too Darn Hot,” originally choreographed by legendary modern dancer Hanya Holm and creatively rethought by NSMT’s Lee Wilkins, uses the small, circular space in a big way by featuring Erich McMillan-McCall’s sizable dancing and singing talents in the role of Paul, the stage manager and keeper of secrets. He is supported by the energetic ensemble in fine style. Also, the opening number “Another Op’nin Another Show” as well as “Wunderbar,” “I Hate Men,” and “From This Moment On” undoubtedly will strike a note of recognition after the first few bars, even if some of the titles do not. And kudos to musical director Antony Geralis for his finesse and fervor in pacing the 2 1/2 hour show just chockful of appealing song and dance numbers.
Solidly directed by Alan Coats, who has assembled a skilled team both in front and behind the scenes, the lively production seems a bit dated with some of its dialogue and stage business that in today’s culture might be construed as sexist, or at the very least, politically incorrect. Nevertheless, “Kiss Me, Kate” is a rollicking good time. Not only does it feature the Tony Award-winning costumes seen in the 2000 Broadway revival, but NSMT’s production values are on par with that very same presentation. (THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE 5/6 ISSUE OF SOUTH END NEWS.)