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A Shakespearean Musical Romp

Alice Busch Theater
07/05/2008 -  and 7, 13, 24, 27, 31 July, 2*, 4, 8, 11, 16, 19, 23 August
Cole Porter: Kiss me Kate
Lisa Vroman (Lili Vanessi/Kate), Brad Little (Fred Graham/Petruchio), Courtney Romano (Lois Lane/Bianca), David Larsen (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio), Martin C. Hurt (Harry Trevor/Baptista), Damian Norfleet (Paul), Michael Mott (First Gangster), Bradley Nacht (Second Gangster), Ethan Watermeier (Ralph), Liza Forrester (Hattie), William McColl (Cab Driver), Robert Kerr (Gremio, Gregory), Jonathan Fiske Hill (Hortensio, Nathaniel), Christopher Magiera (Doorman), Lawrence Jones (Philip), Gennard Lombardozzi (Haberdasher), TK Durham (Harrison Howell
Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra and Chorus, David Charles Abell (Conductor)
Diane Paulus (Director), John Conklin (Sets), Anka Lupes (Costumes), Jane Cox (Lighting), Darren Lee (Choreographer)

An appropriately knockabout production of Kiss Me Kate is the scherzo movement of the four-part, Shakespeare-themed Glimmerglass Festival.

Not much use is made of John Conklin’s two-level unit set evoking an authentic Shakespearian theatre, which here is supplemented by brightly-coloured sets evoking a playful toy version of Italy. Complementing the jaunty visuals is the orchestra under David Charles Abell.

It is a relief to experience a musical these days that is not amplified with the performers wearing body mikes. Joel Morain is credited with the sound design for Kiss me Kate and he is to be lauded for its discreetness. (In contrast, a fine production of a musical that is sadly diminished by over-amplification is this year’s The Music Man at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.) Unlike on Broadway, however, the Glimmerglass people have decided to use projected titles and these are, for the most part, an unnecessary distraction. Cole Porter designed his numbers to show off his clever word-smithing and the Glimmerglass cast delivers them well. At least the titles are well-timed. It happens often that titles deliver a performer’s line before they are uttered, but in this production words are projected only when sung, a policy other companies could well copy.

The work has a dual plot, dealing with a theatre troupe pulling together (or not) a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Complications arise when two gangsters arrive, in pursuit of a member of the cast who (they think) is reneging on gambling debts, while the leading actor and actress, former lovers, engage in a spat that keeps intruding on the spat they are enacting in Shrew.

Several of the characters play two roles, namely that of the performer in the musical and the role in it. A major source of humour arises when one role interferes with the other. One such moment occurs when the actor Harry Trevor, playing Baptista (father of Kate and Bianca), played by Martin C. Hurt, displays his dismay at the bad acting of actress Lois Lane who is playing the role of Bianca (played by Courtney Romano). The co-authors of the book, Bella and Sam Spewack, must have had a great time working out the interconnections between the multiple plots.

The leading lady, Lili Vanessi (also Kate), is marvelously portrayed by Lisa Vroman who truly gives a complete musical theatre performance, with fine singing, good acting, terrific presence - she’s got it all. She overshadows her leading man somewhat, although Brad Little has the requisite roguish air for Fred Graham/Petruchio.

The secondary couple are not as strong. Courtney Romano has an amusing and sparkly presence, but a voice that would no doubt come across better with fuller amplification. She handles the lyrics well, however. David Larsen as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio lacks the dramatic weight to establish his character, the inveterate gambler who the gangsters really ought to be pursuing.

Bradley Nacht is the outstanding of the two gangsters, roles that almost steal the show with Brush up Your Shakespeare. A new verse is added plugging this years Glimmerglass offerings, and he and Michael Mott make the most of it.

The one serious drawback to this production lies with the choreography which for the most part has a sketchy quality. It does take off, however, in the Too Darn Hot number, where the character Paul gets a well-earned moment in the limelight. Damian Norfleet has a strong and distinctive voice, and vividly portrays an in-your-face campy gay man.

The Glimmerglass production, in spite of some weaknesses, gives ample evidence as to why this piece, dating from 1948, remains a cherishable repesentative of Broadway’s golden age of the 1940s and 50s.

Michael Johnson



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