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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Kiss Me Kate- Reprise
Until that revision day arrives, we should consider us singularly indebted to the Michael Michettis of the world. The director's loving and occasionally lusty production for the Reprise Theatre Company makes the nearly 3 hours spent at the Freud Playhouse a kick in the breeches.
Tom Hewitt and Lesli Margherita lead the way as the feuding showbiz couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, along with the able backing of choreographer Lee Martino's sexy ensemble work. The general love of the theat-uh that suffuses the whole endeavor, front stage and back, positively warms the Freud like a late spring Santa Ana. Kate has always been a show about loving the lights, the roar, even the crappy dressing Baltimore rooms that leave sufficient room for a couple to share a pre-curtain waltz.
Tom Buderwitz's stage begins bare, except for a piano, a trunk, a ghost light and a deceptively threadbare-seeming proscenium arch which rotates, adds curtains and nimbly forms the production's backdrop. What at first came across as potentially spartan staging (Reprise can't always go opulent) proves anything but.
Onto this stage, one by one, trickles the company, with Christine Horn's dresser Hattie leading a joyful rendition of the expository "Amnother Op'nin', Another Show." Company members embrace, red lame fabric is unrolled, dance steps are displayed and the tone is established. Also onto this stage comes Lilli Vanessi. The one-time stage queen, now a movie star, is returning to the boards to play Katharine in a Broadway-bound (they hope) musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Said career move doesn't really make much sense given that Lilli's A. engaged to marry an ambitious Army general (Steve Vinovich) and B. still smarting from the wounds of her divorce from actor/director Fred Graham who will be both her director and co-star in this musical Shrew.
Except it does make sense, and not just because everyone from Baltimore to Boston knows that Miss Vanessi still carries a torch for Mr. Graham (and he for her) even before she sings "So In Love" three scenes in. Upon her first entrance, in the midst of "Another Op'nin," Margherita's Lilli is caught in a mini-trance, bathed in a soft blue light (Jared A. Sayeg is the lighting designer), clearly gobsmacked by being back on a stage. It's a lovely, poignant touch, and Margherita, whose cutting glances will prove as eloquent as her growls and screams, plays it beautifully.
Now, delicate or nuanced moments are by no means this production's hallmark which, given that Kiss me, Kate is a tale of ego resplendent actors, is to be expected. Performers of solos tend to leave it all out on stage whether it's Meg Gillentine gleefully vamping and coquetting her way through "Always True to You in My Fashion" or Margherita giving a graphic spin to the line "it's you who have the baby" in "I Hate Men." The exceptions, oddly, are Jay Brian Winnick and Herschel Sparber's classic loving hitmen whose Mutt and Jeff height disparity provide better laughs than any chemistry they fail to generate in "Brush up Your Shakespeare."
A clean-shaven Hewitt, his hair close cropped, is a big man as well. But he dials back Graham's bullying and bluster, and his fluid baritone still rings and soars in "Were Thine That Special Fac"e' and the reprise of "So in Love."
It's built into the musical, of course, but I still marvel at a theatrical ensemble —any theatrical ensemble &mdash that uses the intermission of the musical they are performing to wander outside into the humidity of a Baltimore to blow the roof off the number "Too Darn Hot." Performing in peignoirs, undershirts and loosened ties and led by Jerald Vincent's Paul, Martino's ensemble brings a real charge to this second act opener. Indeed, given the almost Fosse like sexuality of some of these moods, the number is one of several instances where the play seems on the verge of becoming Shag Me, Kate.
"Too Darn Hot," "Brush up Your Shakespeare" and even "Wundebar" are numbers which basically serve no narrative purpose in the show and could potentially meet the aforementioned creative razor. Not that anyone would dare. However one would choose to streamline Kiss me Kate, I very much suspect the music would stay intact. Like this Reprise production, it's too darn good.