Review: Barrington Stage’s “Kiss Me, Kate”

PITTSFIELD – “Kiss Me, Kate” opens Barrington Stage’s summer main stage season, and like last season’s sparkling revival of “On The Town”, it’s bound to be a crowd pleaser. Cole Porter tuneful and witty music and lyrics, Bella and Samuel Spewack’s very funny script, and William Shakespeare’s comedic “The Taming of The Shrew” combine to provide a laugh-filled evening of showtune standards, from the Broadway musical anthem “Another Openin’ Another Show” to the sizzling “Too Darn Hot”, and the pun-filled “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.
According to theatre legend, producer Saint Subber came up with the idea of “Kiss Me, Kate” after working as a stagehand on a touring production of “The Taming of The Shrew” starring the famous on-stage/off-stage theatre couple, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt,. They quarreled onstage and offstage. Cole Porter was engaged to provide music and lyrics. “Kiss Me, Kate” became one of Broadway’s biggest hits in the late 1940s, alongside classics like “Guys and Dolls” and “South Pacific”. After a long Broadway run, the film version was released. It’s a classic worth seeking out for Ann Miller’s and Bob Fosse’s footwork. “Kiss Me, Kate” was last revived on Broadway in 2000, and a video version of the touring cast is available.
“Kiss Me, Kate” is the story of a theatre troupe trying out a new musical version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew”. Producer/director star Fred Graham (Paul Anthony Stewart), and co-star, his former wife Lilli Vanessi (Elizabeth Stanley) are playing Petrucio, who comes to Padua in search of a wife. He gets Katherine, the town shrew. The show’s ingenue, Lois Lane (Mara Davi), is flirting with Graham and also Bill Calhoun (Tyler Hanes), who builds up a major gambling debt, and signs the IOU as Fred Graham. As the company performs the Shakespearean classic, two gangsters (Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan) come backstage to collect. It’s fair to say that hilarity, spiced with some rhymed couplets and double entendres, is guaranteed.
Darren A. Cohen and orchestra bring out the best of Cole Porter’s bountiful score (the orchestrations are uncredited), but the jazz undertones are fresh and contemporary. Joe Calarco’s staging, using every level of James Kronzer’s multi-tiered sets, is slick. Lorin Latarro’s choreography, which combines ballet and jazz dance, dazzles, and the ensemble performs every move with style and athleticism.
Elizabeth Stanley, star of last season’s “On The Town” (and hopefully Broadway-bound with the Barrington Stage production) is a winning Lilli and Kate, with a strong voice that climbs the scales effortlessly and a winning, nimble comedienne. Paul Anthony Stewart as Fred/Petruchio hits his stride with Porter’s “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”. He and Stanley play well together in taut choreographed scenes of physical comedy. Mara Davi as the flirtatious Bianca and Tyler Hanes as her bad-boy boyfriend are a fine dancing duo. The Gangsters, Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan, turn the often showstopping “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” into the real thing.
There are some other winning performances. Nyla Watson, as Hattie, sings “Another Opening, Another Show” with verve, and her dancing in “Too Darn Hot” is a joy to watch. Messrs. Hanes, KC Fredericks, and Calvin Cooper, Bianca’s “Tom, Dick, or Harry” dance the daylights out of “Tom, Dick or Harry” with Ms. Davi. The ensemble gives the second act opener “Too Darn Hot” some serious heat., and kudos to Matthew Bauman for setting that number’s pace.
Ed Chapman’s sound design could use some tweaking. The orchestra drowns out some of the singers’ Porter renditions, when you want to hear every double entendre in his lyrics.
“Kiss Me, Kate” has been absent on Broadway and on area stages for awhile. It’s nice to see this treasure revived, and after watching excerpts from Broadway’s current offerings on The Tony Awards, there’s no comparison between the classics of Broadway’s Golden Age, and what passes for musical theatre today.
Incidentally, Barrington Stage celebrates its 20th Anniversary with “Kiss Me, Kate”. Artistic Director Julianne Boyd moved the theatre to downtown Pittsfield, and this company, along with The Colonial Theatre (Berkshire Theatre Group) have infused the city with a new cultural life, and the shops, restaurants, and retail that thrive with live theatre in the neighborhood. Barrington Stage is synonomous with Boyd. Pittsfield and the area owe Boyd and company a lot of thanks.
Barrington Stage Company presents “Kiss Me, Kate”. Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack. Directed by Joe Calarco. Choreography by Lorin Latarro. Musical direction by Darren A. Cohen. Scenic design by James Kronzer. Costume design by Amy Clark. Lighting design by Jason Lyons. Sound design by Ed Chapman. Cast: Elizabeth Stanley (Lilli Vanessi/Katherine), Paul Anthony Stewart (Fred Graham/Petruchio), Mara Davi (Lois Lane/Bianca), Tyler Hanes (Bill Calhoun/Lucento) . through July 12 at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield. For tickets: 413-236-8888 or www.barringtonstageco.org
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.

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