BWW reviews: NPAC presents a sweltering performance of KISS ME KATE
The second act of the Northland Performing Arts Center & Vaud-Villities Production of KISS ME KATE opens with Cole Porter's classic "Too Darn Hot." It turned out to be a fitting anthem for the evening production. The temperatures hit in the high 80s-90s mark on the thermometer and the performance of the 22-member cast made the shirts of the audience sit to the back of their chairs.
Directed by William Goldsmith and produced by Kent Stuckey, KISS ME KATE has its last slate of shows this weekend. The two-act musical will have its final four shows with 7:30 p.m. performances on Sept. 19, 20, and 21 and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sept. 22 at the Northland Performing Arts Center (4411 Tamarack Blvd.).
KISS ME KATE is one of those delightful, Golden Era musicals with big dance numbers and bigger leaps in believability. However, the book by Sam and Bella Spewack is an interesting tweak of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. The show within a show has leading man Fred Graham (former WCMH news anchor Cabot Rea) taking on the role of Petruchio and his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Susan Bunsold Wilson) playing the role of the "shrew" Katherine in a Baltimore production of the Shakespearean comedy. The off-stage interactions between the two often mirror the actions of their on-stage personas.
If the jabs seem between the two seem pretty realistic, it is because the Spewacks were going through their own set of marital woes when writing the book. The score features some of Cole Porter's best work including the aforementioned "Too Darn Hot," "Another Opening, Another Show," "Why Can't You Behave?" and "Tom, Dick, or Harry".
Rea, who has also played role in past NPAC's productions of SOUTH PACIFIC, MY FAIR LADY, and THE FANTASTICKS, is able to ooze a swarthy cocktail of ego and charm out of Fred Graham. In the first act, for instance, Graham improves the posters for the show by putting his name in 90-point type while his ex's name needs a magnifying glass to be seen.
Wilson, who played opposite of Rea in SOUTH PACIFIC, brings a world-weariness to Lili Vanessi, who is surviving on the smoldering embers of her Hollywood career.
Lois Lane (Madi Short) and Bill Calhoun (Aaron Wiessing) bring their own romantic dysfunction to the show. Lane appears to be flirting with Graham to further her career as an actress. To get back at his girlfriend, Calhoun runs up a $10,000 gambling debt at a local casino and then signs Graham's name to an IOU to the mob. Wiessing and Short bring to life the recklessness of a compulsive gambler and an overly ambitious starlet.
One of the reasons why KISS ME KATE has been around for decades is its collection of quirky side characters. Although the mob henchmen are listed as First Man and Second Man, Drew Washburn and Scott Truslow provide most of the laughs in the second act as the street-wise toughs try to pass themselves off Shakespearean characters to keep Vanessi and Graham from leaving the show until Graham's debt is paid.
The cast features a number of minor actors with big talents including David O'Roark as Gen. Harrison Howell, a character based on Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and Phil Wells as the exasperated stage manager and a talented dancing troupe led by Joyce Patrone, Michael Gault, Christina Bernthold, Lindsey Capritta, Mackenzie Leland, Tucker O'Roark, Laura Stuckey, and McKinley Witt.