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The Arts
IJuly 25-August 1, 2007

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Photograph by Jana Marcus
Kiss Kiss? Bang Bang!: Teressa Byrne channels the wrath of all womankind and aims it at Joe Kinyon's head in 'Kiss Me, Kate.'

Kate the Great

Cabrillo Stage's 'Kiss Me, Kate' rings the bell with wit, verve and sex appeal

Traci Hukill

Ah, The Taming of The Shrew. It's a fairly problematic play; the subjugation of the spirited Kate by Gitmo-worthy means (beatings, sleep deprivation, withholding of food) at the hand of her bullying husband strikes many modern viewers as not particularly funny. So it's a tribute to the wit of composer Cole Porter and librettists Sam and Bella Spewack that Kiss Me, Kate, the convoluted Broadway takeoff on Shakespeare's comedy, is actually extremely funny. And it's a credit to the Cabrillo Stage production of this beloved musical, played exuberantly and with a big wink (literally, in the final scene), that the audience is free to sit back with clear conscience and be utterly charmed and entertained—and occasionally compelled to burst into wild applause, for this is a high-quality production with some over-the-top impressive moments.

Fred Graham, a lecherous, down-at-the-heels producer (Joe Kinyon), is mounting a production in Baltimore of The Taming of the Shrew starring himself and his imperious, fragile ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Teressa Byrne). Their co-stars include Fred's latest squeeze, the buxom trollop Lois (Jill Reasoner), and her compulsive-gambler beau, Bill (Andrew Willis-Woodward). Just as Fred and Lilli begin to admit to themselves that they still have feelings for one another, fate intervenes in diverse and comical ways, including in the appearance of two gangsters sent to collect on a debt only to find themselves entering stage right in stockings and wigs. Soon life is imitating art and vice versa as grudges and revenge are played out onstage and events in Baltimore begin to approximate the play's plot.

The show begins with a blast of energy, heaping it on as the talented ensemble, backed by sparkling orchestration, belts out "Another Op'nin', Another Show." This is an adrenaline-inducing number that indeed proves hard to follow; the pace drags until Lilli and Fred sing "Wunderbar." What a fine number, skillfully choreographed by director Janie Scott; as they sashay around their dressing rooms, having temporarily forgotten their mutual loathing, Fred and Lilli are able to gracefully navigate their reduced circumstances.

This scene contains the first inkling of a problem that dogs the play throughout: Kinyon's Fred is too thinly played, too mild-mannered, too nice. Singing, he comes into his own, as well he should, since he possesses a powerful, gorgeous baritone. And his Petruchio, swaggering and boorish, is just right, a real match for Byrne's florid, operatic and outraged Kate. On opening night Byrne, an Equity actor, turned in a polished, hilarious performance, anchoring the show and at once propelling it steadily forward.

Jill Reasoner played Lois/Bianca with the exaggerated petulance of a classic 1940s moll; she showed off her considerable dancing ability in "Tom, Dick and Harry," which I thought was impressive until "Cantiamo D'amore" came along, and then "Too Darn Hot" made me forget them both. "Too Darn Hot" was mind-blowingly good, a rollicking show-stopper by a hugely talented cast of singer/dancers, and sexy too. Porter's lyrics are notoriously ribald, and Scott wisely plays to that.

Other noteworthy performances came from Glenn Davis and Michael Gomes, who hammed it up as the gangsters, and Michael Stark, who had some fine moments as the daffy Baptista.

Last but certainly not least, this production boasts a triumvirate of Broadway- and television-honed talents in the persons of Tony Award–winning set designer Charlie Smith, costume designer Thomas Marquez and lighting designer Richard Winkler. Smith's set features elaborate mobile components for the Baltimore scenes, which Winkler lights with the shadows and streetlamps of nighttime. For Padua, Smith has designed zany, cartoonish villas matched in mood by Marquez's playful harlequin costumes. Made of bright and contemporary fabrics, they shouldn't work, but they do.

And that, after all, is at the heart of theater—taking risks and doing things that shouldn't work but do. With Kiss Me, Kate, Cabrillo Stage does it and with authority. It ought to be a good run.

KISS ME, KATE plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Saturday–Sunday at 3pm through Aug. 19 at Cabrillo College Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets are $15–31. (831.479.6154)/p>

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