Musical Theater / Theater

Kiss Me Kate at the Barrington Stage Company

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Mara Davi and Tyler Hanes. Photo by Kevin Sprague.
Mara Davi and Tyler Hanes. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Kiss Me Kate

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield Massachusetts
June 11-July 12, 2014

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Directed by Joe Calarco
Musical Direction by Darren R. Cohen
Choreography by Lorin Latarra

Elizabeth Stanley, Paul Anthony Stewart, Mara Davi and Tyler Hanes.
Matthew Bauman, Calvin Cooper, Roger E. DeWitt, KC Fredericks, Fred Inkley, Carlos Lopez, Michael Dean Morgan and Nyla Watson.

Just reading the program builds anticipation for the Barrington Stage Company production of Kiss Me Kate. The songs listed—“So In Love,” “I Hate Men,” “Wunderbar,” “Too Darn Hot”—are among the best from Broadway’s golden age. The first number, “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” adds more anticipation. Then the show builds and builds and builds until it is, unfortunately, way over the top. Barrington Stage Company, always so reliable for exceptional musical theatre, this year embellished a Cole Porter gem. They shouldn’t have. Kiss Me Kate gleams on its own.

Kiss Me Kate is a show within a show. A traveling theatre company stops in Baltimore to present The Taming of The Shrew. We see that play and the company’s backstage shenanigans before, during and after it. Katherine and Petruchio of Taming are an untamed couple, feuding divorcees, Lilli and Fred, in adjoining dressing rooms. Fred, who is having an affair with Lois (who is having her own troubles with her gambling boyfriend, Bill), sends flowers to Lois that end up on Lilli’s dressing table. Bill, meanwhile, has signed Fred’s name to a gambling IOU for ten thousand dollars, and two Damon Runyon characters show up to try to claim the money.

Elizabeth Stanley is outstanding as Lilli/Katherine. She is believable and passionate. When she hates men, in the song “I Hate Men,” she may have caused a shudder in every male in the audience. Her performance of this song is definitive. When she is on stage, the original gem glitters. Matthew Bauman also stands out as Paul, whose main number is “Too Darn Hot.” His dancing musicality is riveting. Mara Davi, using her distinctive voice and charming coquettishness, was excellent, as were Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan as the lovable gangsters. They did justice to their showstopper, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” which was mercifully left unembellished. Tyler Hanes did fine job as Bill. Alas, while Paul Anthony Stewart held his own as Fred/Petruchio, he wasn’t strong enough, arrogant enough to do justice to the character. A bigger performance, more swagger, more swashbuckling was needed to stand up to Stanley’s powerful Katherine.

Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart with the cast of Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Kevin Sprague.
Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart with the cast of Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Katherine and Petruchio’s fight scenes were particularly effective and funny.

“From This Moment On” was originally written for but dropped from Porter’s Out Of This World. Once it was shoehorned into the movie of Kiss Me Kate, it was included ever since. It doesn’t fit. It is too smooth and out of context, although it was sung ably by Fred Inkley.

The problems with this production of Kiss Me Kate begin and end with the director, Joe Calarco. It feels as if he didn’t trust his material. He had a tendency to over-direct every word in every song. Was it really necessary for Fred/Petruchio to put on and take off his cumbersome, high boots during “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” Cannot Porter’s ingenious lyrics (“And in Firenze, where are you, Alice? Still there in your pretty, itty-bitty Pitti Palace?”) stand on their own? Did Bill really have to hug a huge, carnival-size stuffed cat in his arms when dancing and singing “Bianca”? Is it necessary that the “I’m a Little Teapot” school of singing be employed and most every lyric be accompanied by a gesture? This was all so distracting and made what could have been a stellar production downright annoying at times.

If you are looking for lavishness, that you will find! The chorus of singers and dancers is huge and talented. The costumes by Amy Clark and the many sets by James Kronzer are befitting an opera. Lorin Latarro’s choreography was always workable and athletic if not particularly original. Darren Cohen’s direction of his superb 11-piece orchestra was excellent.

Before the performance, the amazing and wonderful Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director of Barrington Stage, thanked the show’s sponsors for donating so generously to Kiss Me Kate. This is obviously a very expensive production. There are many delightful, funny and musically beautiful moments in the show. It is well worth seeing. But without the directorial excess and distractions, it would have been so much better. Less would have been infinitely more.

The cast of Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Kevin Sprague.
The cast of Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Kevin Sprague.
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