DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: ‘Kiss Me Kate’ at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining

Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre opened “Kiss Me Kate,” a classic musical with a score filled to the brim with tuneful and thoughtfully fun songs. The production (August 1 – September 9, 2018) is staged at 12000 Beach Boulevard. Call (904) 641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com for tickets and additional information.

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The musical, based on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” features the fabulous music and lyrics of Cole Porter and is very funny. The Bard’s work was adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams, who set it in Baltimore in the 1940s, where a theatre company is planning a production of “Shrew.” The updated story begins with the cast arriving for rehearsal. Fred Graham, the director, will be appearing in the lead role as Petruchio, while Lilli Vanessi, his combative ex-wife, will be starring opposite him. Their love-hate relationship parallels the on-stage relationship of Shakespeare’s Katharine and Petruchio.

Everyone in the cast is a first class vocalist and dancer, so come to the theatre prepared to be dazzled by the brilliant and witty songs by Mr. Porter. The show opens with the rousing “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” followed by favorites that include the Viennese Waltz parody “Wunderbar,” bluesy numbers like “Why Can’t You Behave,” the clever “Always True to You in My Fashion.” and the beautiful “So in Love.”

Alhambra Dining & Theatre, Kiss Me Kate

Actor Christopher Sanders is outstanding and superbly cast as Fred/Petruchio. Alhambra regulars will remember his impressive performances in “South Pacific” in 2015 and “Man of La Mancha” in 2014.  This tall showman can do it all — comedy, drama and yes, belt out those wonderful songs.

Actress Traci Bair was perfectly cast as Lilli/Katharine in her Alhambra debut. She just closed in the New York musical “This One’s for the Girls,” a show with four women singing excerpts from over sixty songs about the loves and laments of women.

Another romance in “Kate” is the stormy relationship depicted by Lauren Robinson as Lois Lane/Bianca and Broadway dancer Mathew Alexander as Bill/Lucentio. They delightfully explore their difficulties in their version of “Why Can’t You Behave.”

Alhambra Dining & Theatre, Kiss Me Kate

One song that is always a favorite is the naughty but funny “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” sung by two gangsters who are trying to collect a debt. Joshua McKinney and Joey Swift ham it up in double-breasted suits and fedoras.

Portraying two of the senior characters were Alhambra regulars Kurt McCall as General Harrison Howard and Stephen Kane as Katharine’s father Baptista. Mr. Kane was last seen at the Alhambra as Willy Wonka.

Two local actors made impressive debuts on the Alhambra’s stage. Lolita Flagg, who portrayed Hattie, the company’s dresser, has appeared in a number of roles with Jacksonville’s Stage Aurora and can really belt out a song. Rodney Holmes performed as a singer and dancer in the ensemble and has previously appeared locally in “Company,” “Memphis,” and “American Idiot.”

Alhambra Dining & Theatre, Kiss Me Kate

You will love the choreography by James Kinney, the musical direction by Cathy Murphy Giddens, and the superb casting and direction by Tod Booth, but you will especially love the opening of Act II with its hot hot hot version of “Too Darn Hot.” It spotlights the vocal magic and dancing of Darryl Reuben Hall and most of those in the ensemble. It was too darn hot to count the cast members, and besides, they all moved too fast!

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble were Nicole Spenser, Victoria Elizabeth, Brittany Bennett, Pierre Tannous, Evan C. Dolan, Barry Kramer and Jessica Hayden.

The set designed by Dave Dionne and Ian Black was excellent, capturing both the 1940s and the 1590s. The costuming by the Costume Crew was gorgeous and period-perfect.

The food? We chose the BBQ Chicken and Scallops Carbonara selections as entrees and had Key Lime Pie for dessert; all delicious.

You would be hard pressed to find a happier way to spend an evening than joining the crowd at the Alhambra. The theatre offers a unique combination of an engaging ambiance, theatrical professionals, and polished productions.

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.