Cole Porter music enlivens Shakespeare comedy in ‘Kiss Me, Kate’

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Leawood Stage Company

Take Shakespeare’s comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew” add Cole Porter’s music and lyrics, put his play within a play and liven it up even more with some strong voices and precision choreography and you get the ever popular “Kiss Me, Kate,” now playing in the amphitheater at Iron Woods Park.

Leawood Stage Company tackled another big show this year to follow last year’s “West Side Story.” The free production begins at 8 p.m. with chair seating or blanket and lawn chair seating behind.

Leawood Stage Company

“Passions run high as leading lady Lilli Vanessi and her ex-husband, actor/director Fred Graham, battle onstage and off in a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew.’ With romance, comedy, sophistication, and behind-the-scenes high jinks, ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ combines the irreverent humor of two brilliant writers: Cole Porter and William Shakespeare. Musical numbers include ‘So In Love,’ ‘Wunderbar,’ ‘Too Darn Hot,’ ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare,’ ‘Always True to You (In My Fashion)’ and ‘Another Op’nin, Another Show’ and more,” Leawood Stage said.

Leawood Stage Company

The concept of a show within a show entertains as life imitates art and art imitates life. In this show within a show, a troupe of actors are mounting a version of “The Taming of the Shrew” in Baltimore with hopes that it will make a successful run. The problem, though, begins when the two lead characters, Lilli and Fred can not seem to put their past marriage, personal problems, and passions behind themselves. They play the opposing forces of Petruchio and Kate in the Shakespeare show. Along with that, a second pair of actors play lovers in the play as well as real life. What happens in the 1500s comedy is mirrored in the 1940s behind the scenes.

Then, throw in the Cole Porter music, a lot of dance, and two star-struck gangsters. The show plays well to all audiences. The music, singing, and dancing entertains from young to old. The concept of the show within a show uses some of The Bard’s lines to gives “Kiss Me, Kate” the feel of a Shakespearean comedy.

Leawood Stage Company

The central love story comes with flair as two strong actors, Kat Rupercht and David Martin portray the battling leads. Both understand the need for a strong stage presence and can hold the stage in the 1940s or 1500s. They play well together and display the polar opposites they need to portray. Second leads Haley Solowy and Alec Walberg are not called upon to do much more than add a subplot to the story, and both do a great job in their parts. Both have a roving eye and different motives. But, the most scene stealing combo comes from two gangsters who discover their love of the stage and performing. Their signature number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is a show stopper and guaranteed to get the audience laughing at them as they sing and quote the famous playwright. Their song mentions many Shakespearean plays and characters in a laugh inspired song.

Man 1 and Man 2 steal the show. Their delivery and antics as two thugs is priceless. The opening of Act II is their duet which is guaranteed to generate hearty laughs as they sing and ham-it-up for the audience’s pleasure.

Leawood Stage Company

The “Kiss Me, Kate” cast is: Kat Rupercht as Lilli Vanessi/Kate, David Martin as Fred Graham/Petruchio, Haley Solowy as Lois Lane/Bianca, Alec Walberg as Bill Calhoon/Lucento, Rod Chapin as Man 1, James Azeltine as Man 2, Sabrina Stewart as Paula, Jamie Todd as Hattie, Paul Anderson as The General, Mike Brown as Harry Trevor/Baptista, Ryan Foster as Ralph, Carter Stelting as Gremio, Max Pardo as Hortensio, Beau Ellis as Himself. Ensemble: Alexis Bowen, Lisa Earlenbaugh, Jessica Franz, Ella Graham, Brittany Hill, Scarlett Jones, Stella Jones, Sydney Kauphusman, Kevin Keltner, Todd Kern, Pamela Klifar, Max Pado, Rachel Phillips, Kiera Rader, Kim Sheek, Katelyn Seyl, Carter Stelting, Kate Wiese.

Give director Hersh Ellis credit for cutting this monster of a show down to a smaller stage and a workable set design that allows the show to flow from back stage to onstage with ease. The choreography adds a lot with simple but precise dance steps. The other aspects of the show work as well. Lighting in an outside theatre can present a problem, but it mostly works in this show. The sound design can also present a challenge but Friday’s performance only had a few mis-cues on sound.

Leawood Stage Company

And, then there is the orchestra who played the score with a light-hearted feel and texture. They did not overpower the vocal performances and added to the flow of the show. Their soft background between musical numbers was just the right amount of filler to keep the show moving along.

The orchestra is: Kenneth Tysick, Tosh Watanabe, Laura Gray, Kathleen Crilly, Liz Karre, Stephanie Goodwin, Holly Hague, Amanda Personette, Carter Newport, Laura Newport, Jerilyn Main, Amy Schwartz, Michael Rizzo, Lisa England, Michael Marsh, Brad Footh, Dylan Styles, Dave Lovetere, Ken Tysick, Steve Constance, Eric Powers, Lisa Watkins.

Leawood Stage Company

The production team is: Hersh Ellis, director/set designer; Kristen Seefeldt, choreographer; Hunter Sprong, musical director, special arrangements; Alexa Edmonds, stage manager; Kenneth Tysick, conductor; Jennifer O’Leary, costume designer; Chase Roush, Harvest productions, sound design; Elizabeth Kennell, Harvest productions, lighting design; Kaydee Gabel, accompanist; Trevor Seyl, assistant director; Patrick Pribyl, dramaturg/fight choreographer; Ariel Glorsky, assistant choreographer, Maggie McGuire, props; wardrobe; Kim Sheek, assistant costumer; Eric Van Horn, technical director; April Bishop, managing director; Lindsey Lovejoy, social media; Marica Putman, graphic design; Elizabeth Nuss, Harvest productions, lighting tech; Alexa Edmonds, Shawn Moore, performance crew; Eric Van Horn, Bill Wright, Lynn Sheek, Hersh Ellis, Mindi Ellis, Gregg Nick, Rod Chapin, Shawn Moore, and members of the cast and production staff, construction.

Leawood Stage Company

“Kiss Me, Kate” continues this weekend and next, outdoors, beginning at 8 p.m. at the Iron Gate amphitheater at 14701 Mission Road, Leawood, KS. For more information, check out the Leawood Stage website.

Tags: “Kiss Me Kate” review, Leawood Stage Company. Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

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