The final show of Summerstock’s 2013 season is Cole Porter’s inimitable “Kiss Me, Kate,” the first show to win the best musical Tony award in 1949. Director Shannon Hurleigh has given us a production that is energetic and beautifully designed—well worth the price of a ticket.
The action takes place backstage and onstage at a production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” where egocentric producer/director/actor Fred Graham, (Mateja Govich) is in a battle with his co-star and ex-wife, diva/actress Lilli Vanessi (Jenny Rottmayer). As the two struggle for the upper hand in their volatile relationship, they mirror the characters they are playing in Shakespeare.
A romantic subplot involves Lois Lane (Kylie Groom), a former burlesque star trying to make it on the “legitimate” stage, and her partner Bill Calhoun (Paul Mitchell), a hoofer with a gambling problem. Bill’s gambling debts bring two “enforcers” (Charlie Monnot and Paul James) to the theatre; to protect their gangster boss’s financial interests, they inject themselves into the production.
This show has a very solid cast with no weak voices at all and with especially powerful vocal performances from Govich, Rottmayer, and Groom. Mitchell gives us a charmingly believable Bill; Monnot and James are also very funny as the “clown” figures. Other notable performances include Austin Morris leading the company in “Too Darn Hot” and Monnot and James’s delivery of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Christopher Domanski’s set design makes excellent use of the bare stage and provides a clear distinction between the gritty realism of backstage and the painted flats of the “onstage” performance. Robert Pittenridge’s costumes paint the production, starting with a sepia-toned opening and adding colors that shape our vision of the characters and their interaction, leading us to the brilliant final production number.
At the preview performance that is the subject of this review, the orchestra had some initial intonation issues, which were resolved quickly. The staging of “Always True to You In My Fashion” is unhelpful—Groom’s delivery is flawless, but what starts as a window into Lois and Bill’s relationship quickly dissolves into a self-aggrandizing solo turn for Lois. The dancing is a little uneven—some members of the company are less sharp and precise than one might wish.
“Kiss Me, Kate” was Porter’s response to the new (in 1948!) form of the integrated musical, where songs were part of the plotline. This is Porter’s first and most effective integrated musical, and it’s musically and dramatically brilliant. The dialog sparkles and the witty banter is fun to follow. However, the book of the show, by Sam and Bella Spewack, is a product of its time and is socially dated. Many of the jokes and story points turn on the idea that women need to be dominated and controlled. For that reason, this show deserves a trigger warning for those who have dealt with domestic violence, especially emotional violence.
“Kiss Me, Kate” runs through July 28 at Mitchell Hall on the UCO campus at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings and at 2:00 on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Reserve tickets at www.summerstockok.com.