From the canon of past musical theater, KISS ME KATE (KMK) was created
from the mind of that witty composer, Cole Porter. But compared to
today's audiences and tastes, the musical is certainly beginning to
show its age. You are aware of it being antediluvian by the trans-
parent, out of date book, ande watered down jokes.
In 1948 at the Schubert Theater in New York, KMK (based on Shakes-
peare's TAMING OF THE SHREW) first made its debut. Its first revival
came in 1952 at the Broadway Theater. Then in November 1999 another
revival appeared at the Martin Beck.
I saw the '99 revival on Broadway starring Brian Stokes Mitchell,
Marin Mazzie, Michael Berresse, and Amy Spanger. A year later in
Dallas I observed the national tour starring Rex Smith and Rachel
York in the leading roles. Both snazzy productions were peppy,
hilarious, brimming of zest and originality. Both book and score were
dusted off into shiny baubles that glowed with new life, energy, and
interpretation to both the cobwebbed book and robust score.
Now Garland Summer Musicals has mounted as its second summer offering
this Porter penned musical of romance and backstage antics.
Julie Simmons lighting is fine and appropriate, while Michael
Robinson's costumes are saturated in color with fantastic fabrics.
They are also quite period in its detail. But the sets designed by
Kelly Cox have a drab, lackluster, look to them. There is no depth,
nor is there any embellishments, etchings, or true detailed design on
any of them. All the sets are swashed in lifeless color. I'm not a
historian, but I'm pretty sure that back in Shakespeare'
s time they
did not have steel metal door handles.
Porter's score comes to puissant life thanks to Musical Director Larry
Miller & his terrific orchestra. The pit is full of talented musicians
that attack the score with such skill & professionalism; you'd almost
think it's the actual Broadway orchestra down there.
Choreographer Paula Morelan has revised and re-staged this production
with the original choreography by Kathleen Marshall, who did the '99
revival as well as the national tour. Morelan's work is absolutely
marvelous to watch unfold by the first rate dance ensemble. She has a
splendid troupe of dancers under her to work with, and it shows in
Easily the best production number of the night is "Too Darn Hot". It
is rare to see local productions attempt the majority of the dance
music composed for musicals. Remember that a lot of the dance music
that was originally written for Broadway was for highly trained,
caliber dancers. These individuals could dance for 10 pages or more of
just instrumental music.
Today some companies wish not to bother with it or don't have the
talent to really pull it off, there by cutting and dissecting the
dance score. Not here. Combining Morelan's talents, the work of Ms.
Marshall, and this superb ensemble of dancers and singers, they go
all out with sweating energy and gusto. It's an extraordinary number
that you wish you had a rewind button to watch it all over again.
Other big production numbers that earn their accolades in loud
applause include, "Tom, Dick, or Harry" and "Cantiamo D'Amore".
This is a large cast, so it is difficult and impossible to mention
everyone, but there were performances that glowed with stage presence,
talent, and pure enjoyment.
Leading the company is Blake Davidson as "Fred Graham/Petruchio"
Audiences may remember his excellent work as "Juan Peron" in Lyric's
EVITA a few months ago. As the egotistical, manic, & imposing leading
man of his theater company, Mr. Davidson is in a word: magnificent.
This highly talented actor has a large, booming, baritone voice that
is muscular, bold, powerful, and rich. His vibrato is completely in
control and assists him in carrying the high notes with ease, gliding
them as though they were sliding on a lake of ice. Clean, soft, no
nics or pops. This extremely talented man also has great volume that
requires not a hint of body mike. When he went for the long,
sustaining notes I'm sure you could here him beyond the GSM parking
lot. It's that good! Several times throughout the evening his solos
were met with thunderous response from the audience. The best solo
work that evening came from Mr. Anderson, examples include "Were Thine
That Special Face", "Where Is The Life That Late I Led?" and "So in
Davidson also brings to the table comedic chops that were layered and
colorful as his costumes. His comedic attacks on the hidden meanings
in several Porter lyrics were delicious bon-bons handed to the
audience. His facial expressions and comedic delivery wonderfully
assisted him in giving the outstanding performance that stole the
Jacquelyn Lengfelder portrays the role of "Kate/Lilli Vanessi". Ms.
Lengfelder in a couple of scenes had a hard time keeping up with
Davidson in the comedy patter and flow. She does get her comedic
footing set & grounded after a couple scenes, thus providing
a pleasurable & entertaining performance. Vocally she has a
winning soprano voice that sails with charm and ease in such songs
as " So In Love", and "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple".
Lengfelder and Davidson do exquisite work with the classic Porter
duet, "Wunderbar". Both voices melt like butter onto the pages of the
score, creating tasty musical moments for the audience to savor.
C. Nicholas Morris is splendid as the gambling addicted lothario
. A smashing dancer who does exuberant work
in several numbers, especially in "Bianca". Nicholas also has some
enchanting singing duets with Christine Cunningham like "Why Can't You
Behave?" and "Always True To You (In My Fashion)".
Some of the supporting and featured performers also shimmer brightly
within the company.
James Williams steals several scenes with his homage to General
MacArthur as "Harrison Howell", right down to the pipe. His dark,
mellifluous baritone voice makes his only number "From This Moment On"
another major highlight of the evening.
Maurice Johnson as "Paul" and Marilyn Twyman as "Hattie" also deliver
immensely enjoyable performances. Johnson leads the company with "Too
Darn Hot" while Twyman leads the cast in the opener "Another Op'nin'
Kudos also go to Mikey Abrams and Scott Taylor who add zany fun to
the roles of the suitors. With Cunningham and Morris these four make
"Tom, Dick, or Harry" another crowd pleasing number.
Also look for some very sexy, sensual, and solid dance work provided
by Joi Jackson. She is the lead female dancer in the company number
"Cantiamo D'Amore". Let's just say that Ms. Jackson is much hotter
than Beyonce in that number!
Finally a round of applause to the work done by the super duper
ensemble of dancers and singers. They sing with strong, clean voices
& dance up a storm that give the show its enthusiasm and merriment.
KMK does show its age, but the score has held up quite well over the
years. There are some really terrific numbers within that score that
will have your toes tapping to the music. Even after all these years
Porter should be very tickled that his score lives on.
There are two more shows for those of you who are interested in seeing it: tonight at 8 p.m. & tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Granville Arts Center in Garland.