Musical: “Kiss Me, Kate”
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 3
Tickets: From free to $66; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: Fred Graham and his theatrical troupe are on the road, performing a musical version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in Baltimore. Fred is doubling tasks as director as well as actor in the lead role of Petruchio. Cast as Petruchio’s iron-willed love interest, Kate, is Fred’s ex-wife Lilli, while his current paramour, Lois Lane, is playing Kate’s fetching younger sister Bianca.
Lois’ off-and-on boyfriend, Bill, also is in the cast as Petruchio’s pal Lucentio. Off-stage, Bill’s gambling problem causes further trouble when he signs an IOU under Fred’s name and two gangsters visit the director to collect the debt. As Fred tries to escape the thugs, he figures out a way to utilize their ‘services’ to entice his ex-wife to cease her threats to quit the show and marry a wealthy politician, even as Fred and Lilli find themselves again attracted to each other.
Highlights: For only the second time in the last 30 years The Muny is presenting Cole Porter’s Tony Award-winning musical version of Shakespeare’s “Shrew,” which just closed a record-setting run of its own in Forest Park earlier this month in the Shakespeare Festival production. Porter’s 1948 musical was his biggest Broadway hit, on which the composer and lyricist collaborated with writers Bella and Samuel Spewack.
The score is vintage, irrepressible Porter, a delight that offers quintessential music and lyrics that infectiously ignite big numbers such as “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” the dance delight “Too Darn Hot” or the haunting ballad “So in Love Am I.” Director John Going shrewdly takes advantage of some smooth casting choices, including Lisa Vroman in the role of Lilli, whose soaring voice is just as memorable here as it must have been in her turn as Christina in “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. Coupled with the sensational dancing moves of Curtis Holbrook as Bill and the comic talents of Muny veterans Conrad John Schuck and Lee Roy Reams as the elocution-challenged mobsters, the result is a fun-filled frolic for lovers of fine music and comedy alike.
Other Info: Tom Hewitt takes a while to warm up in the role of Fred, and his on-stage chemistry with Vroman seems stiff at first, but eventually the two play nicely off each other and inject both elements of the story (the troupe and the performance of ‘Shrew’) with a lively battle of the sexes that captures the spirit of the Spewacks’ book. Andrea Chamberlain plays amusingly off Holbrook as the ditzy Lois, while Max Kumangai and Kenny Metzger nicely fill the bill as Fred’s dresser and the stage manager, respectively. The supporting cast also includes Patrick Ross, Eric Santagata, Andy Jones, R.J. Brown, Jack Sippel and Nick Leos, who doubles as the estimable dance captain.
The St. Louis contingent is represented in stellar fashion by Joneal Joplin as veteran performer Harry Trevor, who doubles as Kate’s long-suffering father Baptista; Zoe Vonder Haar as Lilli’s well-intentioned maid; Rich Pisarkiewicz as the stage doorman; James Anthony as Lilli’s blustering politico boyfriend Harrison Howell; and Jeanne Trevor, who gets the second act off in rousing fashion by belting out the lyrics to the syncopated jazz number, “It’s Too Darn Hot,” before Holbrook displays his terpsichorean talents in a style hearkening a young Fred Astaire.
Porter’s score gives the primary players a chance to shine individually, and each of them does so smoothly. A major moment of triumph is Schuck and Reams hamming it up supremely on the comic number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” filled with Porter’s clever references to the Bard as well as the two performers’ adept ability to amuse the audience with their take on the bit.
Going is supported as well by an impressive technical team, including the lively efforts of choreographer Liza Gennaro, whose numbers rousingly absorb the sizable Muny stage. Steven Gilliam’s colorful, largely one-dimensional scenic design offers suitable background for dressing room and courtyard scenes, with lighting by F. Mitchell Dana, sound design by Jasn Krueger and a wide array of outfits for the troupe and their skit courtesy of Kansas City Costume. Ben Whiteley’s musical direction is lively and effervescent and enhances the overall effect of the production.
Porter’s music and lyrics are the inspired creations of a musical master, and Going’s sure-handed directorial touch makes this “Kiss Me, Kate” genuinely entertaining throughout.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.