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Kiss Me Kate

a Musical Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY MUSICAL
by Cole Porter (musics & lyrics); Bella & Samuel Spewack (book)

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3476

SHOWING : August 06, 2009 - September 06, 2009

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Aurora Theatre’s 14th Season starts with the legendary Cole Porter’s most triumphant musical. "Kiss Me Kate" ran on Broadway for an astounding 1,077 performances, but local theatre goers will only have 26 chances to catch this masterpiece of the jazz era. Taking its inspiration from Shakespeare, "Kiss Me Kate" recounts the backstage and onstage antics of two feuding romantic couples during a touring production of "The Taming of the Shrew." "Kiss Me Kate" reminds us all is fair in love and war, especially when it is a battle of the sexes. The five-time Tony Award winning revival score sparkles with one hit song after another - including: "Another Op’nin’, Another Show," "Wunderbar," "From This Moment On," and "Too Darn Hot."


CAST & CREW LIST
Producer Anthony Rodriguez
Choreographer Ricardo Aponte
Director Alan Kilpatrick
Music Director Ann-Carol Pence
Ralph Bradley Candie
Lilli Vanessi/Katherine Natasha Drena
Costumer Clint Horne
Second Gangster Bethany Irby
Gremio Jimi Kocina
Fred Graham/Petrucchio J.C. Long
Lois Lane/Bianca Erin Lorette
Hortensio Nicholas Morrett
First Gangster Glenn Rainey
Bill Calhoun/Lucentio David Rossetti
Hattie Tameka Scotton
Harry Trevor/Baptista Al Stilo
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

I don't know who Kate is, but I'd kiss her any day! ;)
by Dagbath Yallington
Monday, August 31, 2009
4.0
Hello fellow theater reviewers, it's your old pal Dagbath Yallington here and I'm telling you that if you're looking for an ensemble in the Atlanta area that will simultaneously wow you and make you all tingly inside, then you must run, nay walk, wait no I was right the first time, RUN to see the Aurora's staging of Kiss Me Kate.

I'll be the first to admit I had never seen the show Kiss Me Kate before and honestly it's not exactly my cup of tea. The material just didn't connect with me and it ran long for my taste. Nevertheless, it is still an engrossing show thanks to the work of a brilliant cast.

We can get one thing out of the way right now. I need to tell you how amazing Natasha Drena is. If you've seen her perform, you know that. If you haven't seen her, then why are you sitting here reading this review? GO SEE THE SHOW SILLY GOOSE!

I'm not sure what J.C. actually stands for, but I'm pretty sure it stands for Justifiably Charming! Mr. Long stands toe to toe with Ms. Drena and holds his own quite nicely. It's another success in a long line of outstanding performances by Mr. Long. The musical number between the two when Lilli finds out Fred's love letter was intended for Lois was a knee slapper of the highest degree!

I had the pleasure of seeing Erin Lorette in Zanna, Don't! a few months ago and she impressed me then and once again wowed me in KMK. Her portrayal of the naive and aloof Lois Lane was very entertaining and she continues to show off a set of pipes that are going to make her a big name in this town. David Rossetti wasn't Superman to Lorette's Lois Lane, but he did the best he could with a part that I didn't think was developed that well.

The duo of Glenn Rainey and Bethany Irby as the gangsters will have you rolling in the aisle. They chew the scenery every time they are on stage. Not literally. It would be expensive to build a new set after every performance! Still, they both steal the scene every time they walk on stage and their duet towards the end of the show is another show stopper!

Speaking of show stoppers, I must give SERIOUS props to Bradley Candie and Tameka Scotton for their work in the best number in the show, in my opinion, It's Too Darn Hot. I was blown away by Mr. Candie's dancing ability, he's flat out amazing. As for Ms. Scotton's voice, I only have three words for you. Holy Crap it is spectacular! Wait, that's five words! Oh My! It's so good I can't think of a word to describe it accurately so I'm going to go with...scrumtrilescent!

I wish there had been bigger roles for Nicholas Morrett and Jimi Kocina. Both young actors, Mr. Kocina in particular, have impressed me in the other works I've seen them perform. They both add a little extra pizazz to the show here, but I felt like their talents could be utilized more.

If you like Kiss Me, Kate then you will love what you see at the Aurora. Even if you don't really care for the show itself, it's work making the trek out to Lawrenceville just to see this dynamite cast. I guarantee either way you'll have a great time or my name isn't Garrison St. Pierre. Wait, that's not my name...guys? GUYS?
[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
oops by Dagbath Yallington
WORTH making the trek! WHY CAN'T I SPELL???!???
oops by Dagbath Yallington
WORTH making the trek! WHY CAN'T I SPELL???!???
Another Op'nin'
by Dedalus
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
4.5
At the risk of sounding like a fan-boy stalker, let me say at the outset that I adore Natasha Drena, that I would pay to watch her sing the phone book, that she’s the best thing to happen to Atlanta Musical Theatre, and that she is absolutely the best Lilli Vanessi I’ve ever seen. That she is part of a wonderful production (at the Aurora Theatre) is just icing on the cake.

For those who consider theatre history irrelevant, let me recap. “Kiss Me, Kate” was Cole Porter’s late ‘40’s “comeback” – his return to success after years (decades?) of failures and disappointments. A backstage look at a musical production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” it was ostensibly a thinly-veiled portrait of the Lunts, the famous husband-wife acting team of the time. That it was written by a husband-wife writing team (Bella & Samuel Spewack) just added verisimilitude to an otherwise not-so bald and unconvincing narrative.

Let me pause here for a digression. “Shrew” is often considered an anachronism, a misogynistic look at out-dated gender roles. Indeed, I was unfortunate enough once to see a production in which the director took an un-PC glee in the degradation of Katharine, who thought Katharine really needed to be taken down a few pegs, and who made the initial “taming” sequence more of a vicious rape scene than a wooing of potential equals. It was, without a doubt, one of the worst productions I’ve ever seen. The irony of this approach is that, for the Elizabethan time from which it sprang, its view of gender roles was markedly advanced. “Shrews” were usually “tamed” with violence and cruelty. Petruchio, in contrast, takes a more fun-oriented, non-violent approach. A close analysis of the play shows that his games and humiliations aren’t what “tames” Katharine, but her recognition that she can have fun with him, that they are “two of a kind,” that she can give as good as she gets.

This is also what has always appealed to me about “Kiss Me, Kate.” Written at a time when gender roles were beginning to change (World War II sent women into the factories and into roles of leadership), it too shows a husband and wife who are truly equals, and whatever “taming” occurs” is rooted in Lilli’s recognition in what she is giving up, both personally and professionally. And, after the curtain closes, you know she and Fred will fight like cats and dogs happily to the end.

So, how does Aurora tackle this show? At first glance, there are some choices that seem odd, even misguided. One of the gangsters a woman? No chorus? A perhaps too-young Fred Graham?

Let me tackle those one at a time. First of all, making the Second Gangster female adds a dimension that works. She comes across as Bonnie to the First Gangster’s Clyde, and their “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” number adds a sexual subtext you can almost taste – yes, the single-entendres have always been there, but now they’re directed at each other, and it’s a joy to behold. Bethany Irby makes her no less threatening, and the whole idea adds a new dimension to the gender-role motifs that ooze out of the show like so much greasepaint. The idea works so well, I wonder why it’s never been tried before.

The lack of chorus also works. We still have Ralph and Hattie, Hortensio and Gremio, so the chorus numbers have enough voices for a full sound. The biggest roadblock is “Too Darn Hot,” which would require them to be both “onstage” and “backstage” at the same time, but this is easily hurdled by just cutting the references to what’s happening “onstage,” and making it an “at-intermission” number. It is also credible that an “on-the-cheap” production like Mr. Graham’s “Shrew” would try to get along with as few “extras” as possible.

Which leaves the casting of J.C. Long as Fred Graham. Mr. Long is a wonderful actor with a substantial Shakespeare resume (indeed, earlier this year, he was one of the best “Ariels” I’ve ever seen). That being said, he comes across as being in his early thirties, which, of course, is far too young to be a convincing impresario with a long career behind him. Indeed, his voice is more in the upper baritone / tenor range, than in the lower baritone / bass range I’ve grown accustomed to in prior Freds. That he pulls it off is a credit to his talent and to his interactions with Ms. Drena’s Lilli. Indeed, I ended up believing them as a couple, believing him as Fred, and buying his performance, with some minor lingering doubts.

Of course, as I said above, it is Ms. Drena’s Lilli that centers this show. Beautiful of face and voice, she creates two characters who hit every note right, who makes me laugh at unexpected times, who sells every song, every fight, every hurt, and who really makes this show her own. I loved everything she did, and don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much during “I Hate Men” as I did here. She made the final song an ode to love rather than a dirge of submission. I loved everything she did.

This was also very nicely designed – a sturdy “backstage” anchoring the set, with flimsy and cheap-looking curtains and wagons filling in for the “Shrew” sets. Two nicely painted “show curtains” add to the “show within a show” feel, and commendations are well-earned by scenic artist Sarah Thomson.

Now, I can’t leave this column without a few words about Wendell Brock’s AJC review of this play. He, in effect, praised everything I did, only knocked it down a few pegs for being “too long.” Indeed, he literally stated a theatre should not take up so much of its audience’s valuable time. To that, all I can say is “Huh?” Musicals of the forties and fifties all represented a full “night out,” none were under two hours. All I can say is, I wonder why Mr. Brock is writing for the theatre if, indeed, it takes up so much of his “valuable time” (indeed, he’ll criticize any show over 90 minutes for being “too long”). I can’t think of a better way to spend three hours than watching a production this luminous, this imaginative, this well-done. I don’t even resent the loooooong commute to get to Lawrenceville.

I also can’t leave without venting about something else – period shows in which modern actors’ tattoos are fully visible. I have nothing against tattoos in general (well, maybe I do, but that’s neither here nor there). But, it’s too-often forgotten that they are a relatively recent “fad” (post eighties), and, before that, they were found primarily in sailors, sideshows, and biker bars. Now I can imagine one, maybe even more ex-sailors being part of a production company like Fred Grahams. But, I seriously doubt their tattoos would be modern styles like Chinese characters or sunbursts. As nicely choreographed as “Too Darn Hot” was (kudos, as usual, to Ricardo Aponte’s work) , I was distracted by the very visible tattoos. If it’s period, cover them up (or turn them into anchors)!

So, despite the venting in my last two paragraphs, I loved loved loved this production, and, unless you have ADHD like Mr. Brock, I daresay you’ll love it too.

And it ends with one of the best kisses you’re ever likely to see on stage.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)





[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Hear! Hear! by Mama Alma
As usual, Brad hits the nail squarely on the head. Kiss Me Kate at the Aurora was that near perfect experience that merits extra points. I'd like to give it a "5++" or a "7". My husband enjoyed it so much that he considered staying after the matinee to take in the evening performance, primarily to see "Too Darn Hot" again! Natasha Drena thrilled me in a range I'd never heard her develop before (is there anything this woman can't sing?). I loved J.C. Long. The misogyny of "Shrew" (it's really "order" my Shakespeare professor would say) was competently dismissed by the little wink Lilli gives at a most opportune time. Just a lovely, lovely show, and as usual, a wonderful review.

AJC, eat your heart out.
Too Darn Hot a Sound System
by playgoer
Sunday, August 16, 2009
4.0
Aurora's "Kiss Me Kate" was nearly ruined for me by the sound system. David Rigg, the listed sound board operator, seems to have been asleep at the wheel, letting music play throughout much of Anthony Rodriguez' introductory speech. Then, when the show started, Christopher Bartelski's sound design seemed to be intent on blasting every eardrum in the house. The muddied, distorted, LOUD sound was a great disservice to the cast, amplifying every slight vocal tremor or off-pitch note into unmistakeable flaws. Far from adding anything to the show, it subtracted, time after time, ruining the fine elocution and projection of all the performers with wince-inducing amplification, especially in the choral numbers. The sound is the only reason I am rating this show 4.0 rather than 4.5.

A powerhouse voice like Natasha Drena's doesn't need any help. She has a winning stage presence, and her rendition of "I Hate Men" was for me the highlight of the show. Her voice shines in the belt of the number (while it shines in the coloratura passages of other songs -- talk about range!). The action accompanying the song added to it with just the right touches.

David Rossetti, playing Bill Calhoun/Lucentio was almost TOO good a dancer/singer for the show. Compared to his crisp, articulated movements, the always-pleasing rubberiness of Jimi Kocina and the up-and-coming earnestness of Nick Morrett looked a tad bit off. Bradley Candie seemed able to hold his own in the dance department.

I can't say I particularly admired Ricardo Aponte's choreography, but it definitely was lively and full of fun. On the distaff side, Erin Lorette did almost single-handed duty in the dance numbers. She partnered well with all the men, and gave sweet line readings when she acted and brought the house down when she sang. Quite a talent!

The cast numbered only twelve, so everyone made strong contributions to the action. Bethany Irby and Glenn Rainey, as the gangsters, punched the comedy up without overwhelming the balance of the plot, and sold "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" through its multiple encores. Anthony Rodriguez wasn't as successful in his musical number ("From This Moment On"), but played General Harrison Howell with his usual energy and verve. Tameka Scotton and Al Stilo both did fine, energetic work as well.

J.C. Long played Fred Graham with less of the self-absorbed bluster that often accompanies the role, making his soft side more endearing as the plot played out. His "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" was his musical highlight, with the acting taking precedence over the singing. Slightly nasal at times, his voice wasn't on a par with Natasha Drena's (whose would be?), but he used it effectively throughout and seemed to give the most nuanced performance.

For a change, the set was a great contributor to an Aurora show. The use of painted curtains filled the height of the stage beautifully, and the backstage set (with orchestra perched on top) had pleasing proportions and provided workable entrances and exits. The dual dressing room set moved on and off smoothly, acting as an appropriate backdrop to the more intimate scenes.

Costumes were as bright and colorful as the sets. The wigs, early in the run, looked acceptable, but might not hold up well through the end of the run, if previous productions have given any indication. For the time being, you can see a distinct difference in the Katherine-the-Shrew's hairdo before and after her "taming."

At the end of the show, the capacity audience rose to its feet in ovation as the first cast members took their bows. This was a heartfelt standing ovation, well-deserved by the hard-working cast. And guess what? The applause didn't need to be amplified to fill the house with sound. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Apparently they fixed it ... by Dedalus
... by Saturday afternoon, when everything sounded fine.
Saw It Sunday by playgoer
The sound problems I noted were on Sunday afternoon. It's a sound level problem, not popping or hissing or cutting in and out. Perhaps they boost the sound levels on Sunday afternoon, assuming they're playing to a blue-haired crowd that's hard of hearing? If so, they assumed wrong. I was gravely disappointed to find the infection of theatrical over-amplification spreading to the Aurora.


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