Western Herald – Review: “Kiss Me, Kate” offers a jazzy, musically-stimulating, dance-fueled finale to the University Theatre season

Review: “Kiss Me, Kate” offers a jazzy, musically-stimulating, dance-fueled finale to the University Theatre season

John Campbell
A&E Reporter

The 2012-2013 season at The University Theatre is rapidly coming to an end, and what better way to close than with the Cole Porter Tony Award-winning classic “Kiss Me, Kate?”

“Kiss Me, Kate” is the story of a production of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew,” which in the musical is being mounted at a Baltimore theatre. Fred Graham (Patrick Connaghan) directs the show and plays Petruchio, the lead. Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Ellen Jenders) plays Katherine in the show, though, only serving to complicate their relationship. “Kiss Me, Kate” takes place exactly one year after Fred and Lilli’s divorce.

Fred has started falling for Lois Lane (Lexie Plath), who plays Bianca. Lois, however, dates Bill Calhoon (Kevin Nietzel), who plays Lucentio and who has put a substantial gambling debt–a $10,000 IOU, to be exact–in Fred’s name. Naturally, this causes two gangsters (Joseph Sammour and Nick Graffagna) to come looking for Fred and demand the money from him.

Meanwhile, Fred and Lilli start to re-develop their romantic feelings toward each other when Fred’s flowers and cards. Intended for Lois, the flowers accidentally get sent to his ex-wife. Fred tries to take the card away, but Lilli tucks it into her bra so she can read it later. Eventually she does, and is so angry with Fred that she calls her fiancé, General Harrison Howell (Austin Bluhm), to get her away from the show so she doesn’t have to deal with him anymore.

The music here is considered classic for a reason, and the orchestra does a wonderful job with the jazzy score. Musicians include Matt Shabala on keyboards (and as the conductor), Jonathan Ailabouni and Curtis James on trumpet, Marcus Johnson on all reed instruments, Andrew Stutzman on trombone, Jacob Wilkins on keyboards, Kellen Boersma on bass and Christian Euman on drums.

The cast also does a fantastic job with their vocal work. The company includes Anica Garcia-DeGraff, Este’Fan Kizer, Elliot Litherland, Max Rasmussen, Deontez Lockett, James Murray, Joey Simon, Colton Steele, Bello Pizzimenti, Todd Tucheck, Madeline Acquaviva, Elijah Curry, Lauren Kerbs, Mallory King, Julia Krueger, Lindsay Powers, Payton Reilly, Todd Tucheck, Sarah West, Evan Wittstock, Nick Angel, Elise Harrigan and Sara Mikulski.

“Kiss Me, Kate” has spectacular humor throughout. The comedic timing and chemistry of Jenders and Connaghan make the show an absolute riot, and the scenes with Sammour and Graffagna are absolutely hysterical as well.

Guest director and choreographer Christopher George Patterson has done a fantastic job here. One of the most stunning things about this “Kiss Me, Kate” is the dancing, which is nothing short of incredible. One of the most visually stunning moments of the show is the dance number during “Too Darn Hot” in act two.

Scenic design by Justin Humphres is incredible. The scenes for “The Taming of the Shrew” are set up really well, with a design that is distinctly Italian. The scenes backstage, meanwhile, inside the playhouse or in the dressing rooms, are much better quality, making the production of “The Taming of the Shrew” look more like a stage production and the rest of the show look like real life.

“Kiss Me, Kate” can be seen in the Shaw Theatre in the Gilmore Theatre Complex on April 18, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and April 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for WMU students and can be purchased at the Gilmore Theatre Complex box office, online at www.wmich.edu/theatre/season/tickets or by phone at 269-387-6222.

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