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BWW Review: KISS ME, KATE at Shakespeare Theatre Company

Raymond Jaramillo McLeod and Bob Ari in KISS ME, KATE

As the Billboard Top 40 Rap Chart features Broadway's own Hamilton at the top of the page, it's exciting to remember a time where hearing Broadway tunes on the radio, and having them performed by top talents was not such a rarity.

If you need a reminder of the timelessness of a good melody, of the allure of crisp, intelligent lyrics, go no further than the Sidney Harmon Theatre in downtown D.C..

Under the direction of Alan Paul, with smooth and sexy choreography from Michele Lynch, Shakespeare Theatre Company's KISS ME, KATE opened last week to a well-deserved standing ovation.

KATE, with music & lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Samuel & Bella Spewack, tells the story of a few backstage romances in the late 40s, during a touring production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The estranged Lilli Vanessi - the leading lady (Christine Sherrill) and Fred Graham - the director, producer, and star (Douglas Sills), battle, reconcile, and battle again. All this, while dancer Bill (Clyde Alves) and ingenue Lois (Robyn Hurder), explore the ups and downs of gambling and cheating.

All the while, we're met with an extraordinary cast of questionable characters - from dressers, to dancers, to an army general, to a pair of crooning gangsters. All of these pieces make for a fine vehicle for some of Porter's greatest songs - and he would have been proud with these performances.

With a company as strong as this one, noe one is allowed to steal the show, but the showstoppers are indeed numerous. Sherrill's Lilli is the perfect film noir leading lady - the picture of grace and beauty until she loses her temper. Thankfully, she loses that temper right in front of us, culminating in a tempestuous and rowdy "I Hate Men." Seeing her get to that point following her exocative "So In Love," shows her range, both vocal and emotional. The leading lady shines both on and offstage.

Clyde Alves & Robyn Hurder in KISS ME, KATE

Broadway's Douglas Sills stars as Fred Graham. The put-upon, egotistical, womanizing producer/director/adapter/actor is expertly played by Sills. Having always enjoyed his work - starting with versions 1, 2, and 3 of The Scarlet Pimpernel, like a fine wine, he's only better with time. "Were Thine That Special Face" and "Where Is The Life That Late I Led?", odes to his love(s), showed a seasoned performance at the top of his game.

Hurder's Lois Lane, the bombshell who's "Always True To You, In My Fashion" hit a homerun with her second act showstopper, and her counterpart, Bill (Alves) was impossible to take your eyes off of, in his tour-de-force "Bianca".

The ensemble supported and shone, with strong features from T. Oliver Reid as Paul providing a smoking hot "Too Darn Hot", and Zonya Love's Hattie, starting the show off with a lively "Another Openin' Another Show." And of course, as the team of bumling gangsters, Bob Ari and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod killed it as they taught us how to "Brush Up Your Shakespeare".

I'd be remiss not to mention a not only functional, but extraordinarily clever scenic design by James Noone. The level of detail, and bits provided by the set should almost give it a performer credit.

Paul's direction is clean and sharp, while clearly trusting the actors to make excellent choices. The only thing I'd like to see more of - which I'd like to see more of in all the theatre I see in the Washington D.C. area - is for more actors of color in leading roles. The most recent Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate starred the brilliant Brian Stokes Mitchell, and while not written for an actor of color, in a city that's roughly 50% Black, it would be good to see our stages better representing the community here.

All-in-all, though - don't miss this Wunderbar production of a great American classic.

Kiss Me, Kate Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. Directed by Alan Paul. Lights, Paul Miller; sound design, Justin Stasiw. With Bob Ari, Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, Patrick Ryan Sullivan, T. Oliver Reid, Zonya Love, Bev Appleton, Harry A. Winter and Elliot Dash. About 2 1/2 hours. Through Jan. 3 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. Tickets $20-$118, subject to change. Call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.



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From This Author - Jamie McGonnigal