The Lovers of 'Kiss Me, Kate' at Paper Mill Playhouse

With their Platinum Anniversary just around the corner, Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, NJ) is celebrating the abundance of springtime with an unwavering classic-favorite from the American musical comedy cannon – Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate!

Kiss Me, Kate opened on Sunday, April 20 to rave reviews, thanks mostly to James Brennan's "wunderbar" direction and "too darn hot" choreography by Patti Columbo.  Not to mention the hard-working and high-energy cast – led by Mike McGowan, Michele Ragusa, Amanda Watkins and Timothy J. Alex!

"Kiss Me, Kate is a hilarious back-stage story following two (now-divorced) theatre actors as they star together in a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Tensions mount, tempers flare and when two gangsters arrive to settle an old score, success becomes a matter of survival," describe press notes.

BroadwayWorld grabbed an opportunity to chat with the four talented leads of this entertaining production…

Mike McGowan (Fred/Petruchio) makes his Paper Mill Playhouse debut as the handsome and ego-rich director/actor Fred Graham and the equally boastful beau, Petruchio, who has "come to wive it wealthily in Padua."  With a towering-build, twinkling blue eyes, and a grin to tame the toughest shrew, Mike shares his delight to join such a fine production…

Eugene Lovendusky: This is such a consummate role for classic American musical comedy. Not only do you get to revel in Petruchio's ego and the slap-stick, but you get to soar in Cole Porter incredible songs like "Were Thine That Special Face" and "Where Is The Life That Late I Led?" Have you ever filled shoes like this before!

Mike McGowan: This has been the broadest thing I've done in a while but it is amazing material. I get to sing things that are truly romantic and sexy – but then I get to be an absolute goof-ball, with an excuse because we're all theatre people!

Eugene: What's it like working with Director James Brennan [aka Jimmy] and Choreographer Patti Columbo?

Mike: Fantastic. They're so inspired. They really brought a lot of insight to the work. I can really be over the top.  Jimmy found a beautiful balance to that; letting us be human but also so out-of-our-minds. It could so easily be just caricature. But if you play it too sincerely, it doesn't work. You have to live in that delicate place. Jimmy was always making choices to keep us in that world.

Eugene: And what about your shrew, Michele?

Mike: She's great! There was never any question about us working well… it was so easy.  One of the things about Kiss Me, Kate is that it celebrates everything about theatre (whether it's the anxiety, joy, humor or absolute fear).  In a way, it gives you permission to bring all of that to your work.  That applies to our relationship, too.  It was just like we were doing the WWF – it was a smack down!

Drama League Award-nominee Michele Ragusa (Lilli Vanessi/Katharine) returns to Paper Mill, where she was last seen as Amalia in She Loves Me.  As Katharine "The Cursed," Michele not only revels in ransacking the stage with over-turned tables and flower-pots, but basks in the alluring star-power of Lilli back-stage…

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Eugene Lovendusky Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF Bay Area, his love for the arts bloomed at an early-age; a passion that has flourished in NYC, where Eugene now lives and works. He is a proud member of the New York City Gay Mens' Chorus.