KISS ME KATE
March 22, 2019
A single ghost light announces the beginning of a rough-and-tumble comedy that
pits immovable wills against implacable egos in the marvelous Broadway revival
of Kiss Me Kate.
Cole Porter’s play within a play, based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
debuted in 1948 and featured choreography by one of America’s modern dance
pioneers, Hanya Holm. Because the musical thrives on a physicality that borders
on a West Side Story rumble, the choreographer, Warren Carlyle is of central importance.
Embittered by a short-lived marriage, two musical theater actors – Fred Graham
(a delightful Will Chase) and Lilli Vanessi (the sublime Kelli O’Hara) – star in
Graham’s Broadway-bound musical. But trouble brews when Graham’s wandering eye and hands rout Vanessi’s amorous memories. Intent on
seducing Graham, the hip-swinging, chest-thrusting ingénue Lois Lane (I saw the
understudy Christine Cornish Smith) kicks the sand that ultimately produces the
pearl between Graham and Vanessi.
High points primarily surround Ms. O’Hara’s crystal clear, soprano voice. There’s
a halo of perfection that settles over every single note and syllable projected by
Ms. O’Hara from the romantically lush ”Wunderbar” to the gutsy “I Hate Men” and
heart-wrenching “So In Love.”
Besides the consistently hummable score, director Scott Ellis and Carlyle
animate every scene with uninterrupted movement sequences that enlarge the
characters. Dance fills much of the action, fusing ballet beats and leg
extensions to Fosse-style hunches over tight prances, tap extravaganzas and
acrobatics seamlessly integrated into the choreographic language. Most
Importantly, the choreography does not rely on “tricks” for applause; it trades in
Inventive recreations of traditional chorus line kicks, tap routines and intimate
In the production’s now-famous number “It’s Too Darn Hot” (made famous in the 1953 film version by Bob Fosse) the racially mixed
cast members mingle outside in the alley designed by David Rockwell. Action
heats up when the multi-talented Corbin Bleu starts to click his heels against a
wood crate. That blows up into a dynamic tap dance with James T. Lane --
reminiscent of the Nicholas Brothers’ renowned splits and sophisticated footwork.
Impressively, percussive taps build on each other until they split
apart into multiple syncopated rhythms.
Meanwhile, back in Padua, the viciously temperamental Kate is eligible and rich
but unmarried because no man dares to tame her—that is until the mercenary
Petruchio arrives to claim a bride. Their hilariously bitter battle for supremacy is
evoked through overhead lifts that dodged Jeff Mahshie’s overflowing
Shakespearean gowns, body flips and rough lindy hop maneuvers. There may be no rear-end paddling in this version, but by golly, the singing and acting never waivers under the pressure of the show’s acrobatics.
Not surprisingly, John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams (the two thugs intent
on reclaiming cash for a bad bet) grab the spotlight in “Brush Up Your
Shakespeare.” Replete with canes, striped suits and straw hats, they happily
milk the audience’s applause with every soft shoe strut and false exit.
What’s particularly pleasing, in a show replete with pleasing moments, is the
chemistry between Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase. Not the most bombastic
Petruchio, Chase establishes his male privilege in a quieter, more believable
manner. Under Ellis’ keen eye, the dramatic arc builds into a tower of animosity
that melts into a touching moment of loving, mutual recognition.
There is not downside to the Roundabout Theatre Company’s rousing revival of
Kiss Me Kate at Studio 54.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis