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A CurtainUp DC Review
Kiss Me, Kate
The story, for those who were born yesterday, concerns a musical production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with Fred Graham (Douglas Sills) and Lilli Vanessi (Christine Sherrill) playing Katherine and Petruchio. They have been married to and divorced from one another — it's complicated.
If ever there was a good example of a love/hate relationship, this is it. Lilli has moved on to brief fame on the left coast and a military man looking very much like General MacArthur,(a precise and straight-faced performance by Patrick Ryan Sullivan) with corn cob pipe firmly entrenched in his mouth and a take-no-prisoners demeanor. Fred enjoys backstage romance and antics but in his heart he pines for Lill, the emotion he expresses in the beautiful solo "So In Love."
The on-again, off-again love story is navigated with intense vitality in brilliant performances by Christine Sherrill and particularly Douglas Sills. Their strong voices match their characters' personalities. They are, however, not the only couple whose troubles provide steamy scenes. Lois Lane (Robyn Hurder) and Bill Calhoun (Clyde Alves) as Bianca, Kate's younger sister, and Lucentio, Bianca's no-good gambling lover are terrific too. Robyn Hurder , a very strong vocalist/dancer/actress who can shimmy even better than her sister Kate, brings down the house when she sings "Always True to You In My Fashion." Clyde Alves, as her lover— well, one of them — is a sinewy dancer who effortlessly crosses the stage in perpetual motion. Another scene with Robyn Hurder asBianca with her three suitors, "Tom, Dick or Harry," has choreography that gets so much applause it stops the show.
Choreographer Michele Lynch cleverly combines some classic 1940's steps with contemporary moves. There really is something for everyone: syncopated moves, high kicks, shim sham, juggling, acrobatics . . . you name it. And there is no shyness in how the uniformly excellent ensemble struts its stuff. High energy is everywhere but so is sex especially at the beginning of the second act as the dancers saunter on to the stage before gaining steam with "Too Darn Hot."
James Noone designed the scenery which ranges from a Piranesi-like black and white pen rendition of an Italian urban scene to crudely drawn and painted palaces and crummy backstage quarters with many doors. Lighting Designer Paul Miller provides many moods and adds to the humor with theatrical jokes such as having a spotlight in the wrong place. There are so many costume changes that Alejo Vietti, the designer, must have been working overtime. The all-white wedding scene gowns are a stark almost serene contrast to the colorful chiffons and silks that went before.
Much of the success of this Kiss Me, Kate is due to the electricity generated by the choreography but the hero is Director Alan Paul, a truly gifted young man who deftly moves his actors from comedy to pathos and back again. He certainly knows how to set up a joke (spoken, visual) and instead of milking it, moving on fast to the next one.
It helps of course that the show is perfectly cast and that his ideas seem to be totally in synch with the choreographer's. Even the old farcical backstage jokes -- stuck doors, birds that fly briefly, a bored stage manager who stays in his stage right chair listening to a ballgame -- somehow seem fresh, new.
It would be unfair to call First Man (Bob Ari) and Second Man (Raymond Jaramillo McLeod) the comic relief because all of Kiss Me, Kate is comic if not farcical relief; but these two Damon Runyonesque characters, particularly when they perform "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" vaudeville-style are truly brilliant, a show within the show within the show. Dem guys is de best. So is Kiss Me, Kate.