It’s one thing to perform a play within a play. It’s another to perform a musical within a musical. Along with twice the acting, there’s also twice the singing and twice the dancing.
Spokane Civic Theatre’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” which opened Friday and is directed by Melody Deatherage, manages to carry the heavy workload as if it were as light as a feather.
In “Kiss Me, Kate,” a Baltimore-based theater company is putting on a musical version of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Both the volatile relationship between Petruchio and titular shrew Kate and the sweeter union of Kate’s more desirable sister Bianca and her love Lucentio in Shakespeare’s classic tale are mirrored offstage.
The former is depicted by director/producer Fred Graham (Daniel McKeever) and Hollywood star/Graham’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Tami Knoell), who play Petruchio and Kate, respectively, in “Taming.” The latter is portrayed by Lois Lane (Hannah Kimball-Fuller) and Bill Calhoun (Jonah Taylor).
After an acrimonious divorce, Graham and Vanessi are at each other’s throats, trading barbs every chance they get, though with Vanessi reminding Graham of the anniversary of their divorce, it’s clear the pair still has feelings for each other.
Whether as Fred and Lilli or Petruchio and Kate, McKeever and Knoell portray the love-hate (heavy on the hate) relationship with tangible venom and equally as felt adoration for their former love.
Kimball-Fuller and Taylor were a fun couple to watch, both as the ditzy young actress Lois Lane, for whom Graham is also pining, and the gambling Bill Calhoun, and as Bianca and Lucentio. They also shined individually – Kimball-Fuller during “Tom, Dick or Harry” and “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and Taylor during “Bianca.”
Jhon Goodwin and Grady O’Shea, as Man #1 and Man #2, two armed gangsters who show up at the theater to collect on a $10,000 IOU Calhoun signed in Graham’s name, added comedic relief to some tense moments between Graham and Vanessi, simultaneously threatening Graham and praising Vanessi’s performance.
The two eventually make their way on stage, looking like court jesters, and even have their own number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” a highlight of the show.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite song though, as Cole Porter’s music and lyrics, plus the impressive voices of the cast, especially the quartet of McKeever, Knoell, Kimball-Fuller and Taylor, make each song seem like the standout until the next one came along.
Likewise, the set was spectacular. The middle of the stage acted as both backstage for the theater company and the “Taming” set. That portion in particular was beautiful to look at next to the rich burgundy red costumes on many of the men.
Stage left acted as the alley behind the theater where the actors congregated during “Taming’s” intermission, and stage right was Vanessi and Graham’s dressing rooms. The action flowed seamlessly from one section to the next, making use of the entire stage.
Music director Henry McNulty and choreographer Heidy Cartwright deserve a nod for their work in bringing such great energy to “Kiss Me, Kate.”
McNulty ensured that the orchestra and the actors were impressively in sync, and Cartwright enhanced the show with several styles of dance, from waltz to tap, plus acrobatics and lots of physical humor.
The large set piece used as the roof in Petruchio’s home was a little distracting just hanging above the scene, and it was difficult to hear the singing over the music during “Too Darn Hot,” but strong acting and dancing made those elements easy to overlook.
On- and off-stage relationship drama aside, “Kiss Me, Kate” is ultimately about the theater, the hard work and dedication that goes into a show, and the camaraderie between members of the cast and the crew.
Each person is vital to the success of the show, and when it comes down to it, no actor or crew member is left behind.
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