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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Kiss Me, Kate" at Studio 54
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents "Kiss Me, Kate" at Studio 54

- Backstage with the Playwrights


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Roundabout Theatre Company
www.roundabouttheatre.org

Todd Haimes, Artistic Director / CEO
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
Sydney Beers, General Manager
Steve Dow, Chief Administrative Officer

Presents:
Kelli O’Hara, Will Chase, Corbin Bleu
in
Kiss Me, Kate
(Kiss Me, Kate Website)

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Directed by Scott Ellis
Choreography by Warren Carlyle
Music Direction by Paul Gemignani

With:
Terence Archie, Mel Johnson Jr., James T. Lane
Stephanie Styles, Adrienne Walker, Lance Coadie Williams

An ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers
and John Pankow

At
Studio 54
254 West 54th Street
NY, NY
212.719.1300

Set Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Jeff Mahshie
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Dance Arrangements: David Chase
Additional Material: Amanda Green
Hair & Wig Design: David Brian Brown
Make-up Design: Christian McCulloch
Production Stage Manager: Jeffrey Rodriguez
Fight Direction:
Rick Sordelet & Christian Kelly-Sordelet
Casting: Jim Carnahan CSA &Stephen Kopel, CSA
Press Representative: Polk & Co.
Technical Supervisor: Steve Beers
Director of Marketing: Elizabeth Kandel
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Director of Development: Christopher Nave
Adams Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Executive Producer: Sydney Beers

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 22, 2019


The Roundabout’s revival of the 1948, sumptuous, Cole Porter Broadway musical, Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54, has luckily brought along Kelli O’Hara in the lead as Lilli Vanessi and Paul Gemignani in the lead of Conductor. As the overture and Lilli’s Scene Three, “So in Love” nurture the audience in the tonal warmth of 1940’s styled, richly hued orchestrations, I and my guest (a professional musician) exchanged glances that heaven just entered this venerable establishment with such different musical history (think of the 1970’s Studio 54 dance tunes emanating upstairs into this space.) I would see this production ten more times, just for Porter’s “So in Love”, cradled in such intoxicating strings. Ms. O’Hara rose to that moment in a golden glow and rapturous, song bird style. This is why I longed, throughout the two-act performance, for her to visibly exude the passion she verbally expressed. Lilli was singing onstage (backstage) to her ex-husband, Fred Graham (Will Chase), her co-star in the musical within a musical, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. So unfortunate in the casting for this show, Mr. Chase did not ever exude chemistry, ardor, palpable longing, full-throated desire. He seemed trapped as Petruchio, his Shakespearean lead, who tames Katherine, i.e., Kate. He was self-conscious and self-contained, not brimming with fiery, conflicted love. Even his backstage hairstyle, as Fred, seemed too cropped and his mustache too thin.

On the other hand, Corbin Bleu, as the hoofer, Bill Calhoun, could not get enough of Lois Lane (Stephanie Styles), also known as Bianca in Taming…. Mr. Bleu’s Act II number, “Bianca”, brought the house down, as he athletically tapped up, down, and across the stage. Ms. Styles’ Act II “Always True to You in My Fashion”, sung to Bill, was charged and vibrant. The plot is quite simple, as Lilli and Fred find themselves in adjoining dressing rooms, and Lilli’s fiancé, Harrison Howell (Terence Archie), a military power player in Washington, later shows up to take her to a boring marriage of social events, devoid of theater and song. When Bill is stuck in a big gambling debt to gangsters, he signs Fred’s name. The actually adorable gangsters, First Man and Second Man, played by John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams, have their own Act II duet, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. No retribution is exacted for the phony IOU, and everyone couples up 1948 style as “Kiss Me, Kate” is reprised after The Taming of the Shrew’s final curtain. A big takeaway is Warren Carlyle’s masterful, exuberant choreography, with bawdy, upside down, tossing about, hoofing away showstoppers. The crème de la crème choreography occurred in the Act II opener, “Too Darn Hot”, with James T. Lane as Paul, Mr. Bleu, Adrienne Walker as Hattie, and the full ensemble in a quintessential showstopper, that is, along with the other showstopper, “Bianca”.

The 1948 Kiss Me, Kate book, written by Sam and Bella Spewack, included some onstage spankings for Petruchio to enjoy in his Shakespearean taming episodes. These were essentially omitted for the Roundabout’s production, and Ms. O’Hara got to do some of her own smacking, where comedic stage conflict arose. The 1953 film, which I waited to watch after seeing this show, certainly did include spanking attacks, and Kathryn Grayson acted them out in 1953 fashion. But, I will note that Howard Keel had no passion exuding issues, and the screen chemistry with Ms. Grayson was visibly thick. I should also note that Mel Johnson, Jr. also performed impressively as Harry Trevor. Scott Ellis’ fine direction to the cast in musical numbers and dialogue shone with polish, except for the flatness of the O’Hara-Chase dialogue and duets. David Rockwell’s exceptional sets include the “Shrew” scenery front or backstage, the dressing rooms authentically drawn, and the scenic shifts for big ensemble numbers. Donald Holder’s lighting and Brian Ronan’s sound were fine-tuned and pitch perfect. Kudos once again to Paul Gemignani for his incomparable music direction and conducting.