Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review of "Kiss Me, Kate"

The Summer Theatre of New Canaan's production of Kiss Me, Kate is entertaining and contains some of the best songs ever written by composer Cole Porter.  However, the musical lacks, for a better word, zip.  There are some very good performances and the choreography is tip-top, but the sprightliness is sporadic, the pluck and pizazz spotty.

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, the show is contrived as a musical within a musical.  Here, you have squabbling former spouses Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi co-starring in a stage musical entitled Kiss Me, Kate!  They feud and argue within that production as well as off-stage.  Adding to the hubbub, more backstage then out front, are the secondary comedic couple of Lois Lane and her wayward boyfriend, Bill Calhoun.  Mix in two gangsters looking to collect a gambling debt and you have the fanciful, yet diverting plot line.

The compositions by Cole Porter form his most cohesive set of songs he wrote for any of his over two dozen stage musicals.  It’s no wonder, then, that Kiss Me, Kate was his most successful show and the only one that ran for over 1,000 performances (Trivia Note – the musical won the very first Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949).  From the rousing opening number, "Another Op'nin', Another Show,” audience members are treated to a multitude of unforgettable classics such as "Why Can't You Behave?," "Wunderbar," “So in Love,” “I Hate Men,” and the comedic gem "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

The cast is led by David Sattler in the dual role of Fred Graham/Petrucchio.  While the actor has a commanding voice and sizeable persona, he doesn’t always seem comfortable in the role.  Mary McNulty’s Lilli Vanessi is exuberantly exasperated as a sparring ex- and, as Katharine, is the shrewest of shrews. Rachel MacIsaac’s Lois Lane/Bianca is fiery and coquettish.  Tim Falter, playing her love interest Bill Calhoun, has a roguish charm, pleasant singing voice, and is quite a hoofer.  Brett Alters and Brian Silliman form an amusing and droll comedic team as the two lovable gangsters.

Choreographer Doug Shankman has sketched out some of the more lively moments of the show.  The dance numbers are sassy and full of energetic jolts.  Standouts include the Act II opener "Too Darn Hot" and Rachel MacIsaac’s spirited solo in "Always True to You in My Fashion."

While there are enjoyable moments in the production, the musical is not as nimble and invigorating as it could be.  Director Allegra Libonati could have injected a more buoyant ambiance.  Some of the lighting decisions were puzzling, especially a revealing moment when actress Mary McNulty is off-stage reading an important note in shadow.

Kiss Me, Kate, at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan through July 29th

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