by DICK KEREKES
The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts presented a four performance run of the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate, last weekend. This musical with book by Samuel and Bella Spewack, opened l948 and ran for 1,077 performances picking up several Tony Awards including Best Musical. This is a play within a play where the interior play is a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
Since this is an after the fact review, I will not go into the plot except to say it is a delightful comedy, and a lot of fun with wonderful music. Check out the l953 MGM movie with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller and Bob Fosse available at local libraries.
Seeing this production gave me the opportunity to see four departments of DASOTA that include theatre, vocal, instrumental and dance in action in collaborative effort. The results were a perfect delightful evening with one of my favorite composers, Cole Porter, performed by very talented students of this school of the arts.
The program listed 25 student musicians who were directed by show conductor Jeffery Clayton and Orchestra Director Ace Martin. Sitting in the front row I had a bird’s eye view of their performance and I was at first apprehensive about sitting as close as I felt the music would overpower the singers. I was wrong and due to excellent use of mikes by all the cast members, I could hear every word spoken and every song perfectly.
DA, according the program, rented some of the sets which consisted of a two story back stage view of dressing rooms complete metal spiral stair cases, two dressing rooms that the efficient crew rolled on and off as needed and the houses of Padua. Students created to floor to ceiling drops that were very colorful. The very evocative lighting design by Pamela Jackson enhanced the visual effects to create various moods.
Costume Designer Sally Pettegrew’s creations, took us back to Shakespeare’s times, with colorful authentic apparel. I liked her post war costumes for the actors in l948 Baltimore.
A number of Douglas Anderson graduates have gone on to various universities and then on to the professional stages all over the country, as actors, singers, dancers and in technical fields. The performers I saw in this production certainly continue the tradition of performance excellence that DA students have established over the years.
Choreographer Ellie Barrett made full use of talented dancers, with some dazzling dance routines. I especially liked the opening number of act II, “Too Darn Hot’, which lived up to its name and was hot, hot hot. Using two lead dancers and singers in this number was unique, and both Frank Humphrey and Nick Sacks were excellent. Mr. Sacks, by the way, has an impressive resume already with several performances at community theatres and The Alhambra Dinner Theatre.
The choice of two women dressed as men to play the hilarious dim-witted gangsters, was truly inspired casting. Katie Jacobson and Jessica Booth were among the crowd favorites as they tapped and sang “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” using their best New York accents.
I recognized two other performers that I have seen on stage with community theatres in various roles. I have practically seen Megan Stillson (Hattie), grow up on local stages and Chris Robertson (Hortensio) recently performed an impressive major role in Players by the Sea’s Sweeny Todd.
Cole Marshall looked sharp as the General and had some interesting comic lines. Was I the only one in the audience old enough to laugh at the jokes about Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey? It felt like it.
Augustus Bennett played Baptista, the father trying to marry off his Katherine and Bianca. He did not look a bit like a relative to either of them but gave a wonderful in an over the top performance. Tanner Lane, playing Lucentio/Bill was a triple treat, singing, acting and doing some nifty solo dance numbers. Cedric Paige as Gremio was one of the rollicking trio, in the “Tom, Dick and Harry” number.
I have seen the role of Lois/Bianca, played like as cutie-pie ingenue, but I liked Bryce Erdman, who gave the role style and pizzazz. She certainly could belt out songs like “Why Can’t You Behave” and “Always True to You in Your Fashion.
If you have ever seen The Taming of the Shrew you know that roles of Petruchio (the suitor), and Katherine (the shrew) are very demanding. In this musical that is so true as well since both must also sing many of the songs. Nick Jones is charming and dashing as the leading man and his timing and singing are exemplary. His “skirmish” with Kate was uproarious and side splittingly funny.
Tiffany Gray was superb as the feisty Kate/Lilli and her well trained voice made it a joy to hear such songs as “So in Love”,”Wunderbar” and her show stopper “I Hate Men.”
Rounding out this company of actors/singers and dancers who performed with amazing energy and enthusiasm were Dani Cheiken, Bradley Akers, Maya Akser, Alex Aleman, Nicole Ignasio, Jacoby Johnson, Rachel Jones, Kathryn Kuhn, Isabella Miyares, Tanisha Moore, Caleb Rand, Christina Rodriquez, Nathan Smith, Ana Trevino, Ashley Turner, Caylor Ventro, and Kellie Wyatt.
Artistic Director Dr. Lee Berger, did a remarkable job of assessing the talents and strengths of this large cast and directing them toward of goal of truly entertaining an audience while developing their potential as performers. While there were 30 in the cast, the project involved many more students and parents who worked behind the scene to make this a success. If you missed it, you missed a good one.
DASOTA will present Diary of Anne Frank on their main stage February 19-21 2009. Mark you calendar now.
Kiss Me Kate
by DICK KEREKES