Dual Critics Review: KISS ME KATE at the Orange Park Community Theatre


OPCT opened a delightful version of “Kiss Me Kate” with its first show of 2018, for a run from February 9 – March 4. The theatre is located at 2900 Moody Avenue, in Orange Park, Florida. For reservations, call 904-276-2599 or visit ShowTixNow.com.   For additional information, see www.opct.info. 

Kiss Me Kate” is a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” and is a play within a play. The show is set in Baltimore in the 1940’s and tells the story of Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, a divorced couple who have been brought together to star in the musical. The love-hate relationship between the two parallels the on-stage relationship of Petruchio and Katherine, Shakespeare’s characters. And as their opening night performance progresses, so does the romantic tension between the two principals.

The brilliant and witty score by Cole Porter opens the show with “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” sung by Hattie (Sara Green) and a large ensemble. The classics that follow include the Viennese waltz parody “Wunderbar;” bluesy numbers, like “Why Can’t You Behave” and “It’s Too Darn Hot;” the witty “Always True To You in My Fashion;” and the beautiful “So in Love Am I.”

Mr. Nikolas Wendorf is perfectly cast as Fred/Petruchio; he has the looks and the energy that the role requires. Mr. Wendorf is a triple-threat man: comedy, drama, and song, he does it all. He is a Navy Hospital Corpsman and while this is his first show in Jacksonville, he brings impressive musical theatre credits from Connecticut and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Actress Christine Phillips as Lilli/Katherine (Kate) is a fine actress and has a beautiful voice, ideal for both sweet and comedic tunes. As the male half of the Dual Critics I will admit I cowered a bit when she sang “I Hate Men,” but she did redeem herself before the final curtain. Orange Park Community Theatre regulars may remember her previous appearances as Fiona in “Shrek” and Judy Haynes in “White Christmas.” In the spring, you will be able to catch her performing at the 5 & Dime Theatre as Susan in “Company.”

A secondary romance in “Kate” is the mercurial relationship between Brenna Shuman as Lois Lane/Bianca and Broadway hoofer Neal Baker as Bill/Lucentio. Both have been in a number of Orange Park musicals. Their version of “Why Can’t You Behave” explores the difficulties the characters face in being together. Bianca’s additional suitors include three very handsome guys: Gremio (Joseph Howard), Hortencio (Al Vallacampa), and Nathaniel (Etienne Al Ramlat).

One song that really brought down the house was the bawdy but terribly funny number “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” performed by two bad guy gangsters trying to collect a debt. The dynamic duo was portrayed by Josh Katzman and Steve Cohn, who looked great in their pinstripe suits. Steve Cohn has been in theatre since 1977 and a list of the Orange Park musicals he has graced would fill several pages. Mr. Katzman has an impressive resume of featured roles in musicals in local theatre and we recall seeing him as Jud in “Oklahoma” and Motel in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The senior set is represented by Tom DeBorde as the wealthy politically-connected Harrison Howell and John Kirkham as Baptista, the very very funny father of Kate and Bianca. Sally DeBorde plays the attentive stage manager Sal. Steven Amburgey portrayed Fred’s dresser, and also performed as Paul, with a rendition of “It’s Too Darn Hot.”

Rounding out the cast of twenty-five actors were Landon Amburgey, Daniel Blazek, Samantha Eigenmann, Elizabeth Bradford, Madeline Gamel, Marisa Materazzi, Cynthia Baker, Maria Masters, Danielle Summerton, Kaira Villacampa and Teoman Karaagac.

The set design by Joanne Quaile Brenner included well-rendered “modern” (1940’s) and Elizabethan (1590’s)  period styling; Irene Cheatum was the Pauda Set artist. Ms. Brenner was also the Stage Manager.

The costuming by Barbara Wells, Cynthia Baker, and the cast members was excellent and big thanks go to the Tom Nehl Fund of the Community Foundation for making this possible.

The Orange Park band, hidden away back stage, included Charlie Mann (Keyboard), Heather Baerga (Woodwinds), Cynthia Baker (Clarinet), and Nick Despres (Percussion).

The play was co-directed by Stan Mesnick and Brenda Cohn, with Tim Deborde as Music Director and Missy Losure as the Choreographer.

Orange Park has created a polished production with this Tony Award-winning musical, which is  filled with great music, entertaining comedy, and in the words of the Bard, the opportunity to “frame your mind to mirth and merriment.”

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.