The College’s Opera Theatre recently concluded a run of its first show of the year, Cole Porter’s musical comedy “Kiss Me, Kate.” The show ran Nov. 11 through 14 at the Kendall Hall main theatre.
Based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” the show follows the lives of a Baltimore theater company as it prepares to perform an updated version of the classic play.
By the end of the show, it is the players’ personal lives that have taken center stage. The two-act show is structured around 20 Porter songs, each a unique blend of vocal performance and dance.
With strong voices and clear theatrical talent, principals Kelly Regina Johnson (Lilli Vanessi/Kate), Wayne Hu (Fred Graham/Petruchio), Christina Ryan (Lois Lane/Bianca) and James Holden (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio) consistently impressed the crowd.
The show was choreographed by Michele Mossay-Cuevas, instructor and choreographer at Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse Theatre Conservatory. The addition of such an experienced choreographer paid off for the cast, who performed impressive ensemble dance numbers throughout the show.
Director William Corson, a professional performer and director who is credited with over 100 on-stage roles, used his unique creative vision to set this production of “Kiss Me, Kate” apart from the many others that fill high school, college and professional stages each year.
The sets, which required frequent change, were changed with speed and efficiency. The crew wore clothes typical of the show’s 1948 Baltimore setting, lending a voyeuristic realism to the performance.
One highlight of the show came near the end of the first act, when Johnson performed the solo song “I Hate Men” as the title character Kate.
With lyrics like “I hate men/I can’t abide them even now and then,” the contempt in the song is evident, while the comedy is much more subtle.
Johnson managed to effectively convey both, and to win the audience for a character which, in both her Shakespearean role and her Porter counterpart, is written to be nearly insufferable.
The first song of the second act, “Too Damn Hot,” marked the theatrical high point of the show. The song gave the company and minor characters their chance to shine through vocal and dance solos, illustrating the cast’s great depth of talent.
In a 2002 theatermania.com review of a “Kiss Me, Kate” production, theater critic Michael Portantiere wrote, “Even an absolutely stellar production of ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ with superb leads can be stolen by the actors cast in the roles of gangsters 1 and 2.” This held true for the College’s production. Christopher Proulx and John Fisher, credited only as Man 1 and Man 2, managed to find the good-natured goofiness needed to turn their gangster characters into comedic leads.
The audience, many of whom had seen other productions of “Kiss Me, Kate” in the past, enjoyed the College’s interpretation. “I liked it,” Beth Kuhn, senior early childhood education major, said. “It was very close to the movie.”
“I thought the play was awesome,” Kate Hildebrand, freshman physics major, said. “The vocals were great and so were the dancing and comedic timing. I really enjoyed it.”
This final product was the result of countless hours of hard work, a fact not lost on the audience. “I know everyone worked very hard,” Hildebrand said, “and it really paid off.”