Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Kiss Me, Kate
Also see Wally's review of How the Other Half Loves
This musical has a very clever book by Sam and Bella Spewack, and some of Cole Porter's better songs (along with a couple stinkers). The conceit is that Fred Graham is producing and directing a Broadway revival of Shrew, in which he also plays the role of Petruchio. His ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, now a movie star of sorts, has agreed to come back to the stage as Kate. Their off-stage bickering mirrors the on-stage banter. There's also the fact that Fred is courting the young (but experienced in ways other than theatrical) actress playing Bianca. The plot device that prevents Lilli from leaving the show is that a couple of gangsters show up to collect a gambling debt IOU (forged by the actor who plays Lucentio) from Fred. It's far-fetched but it works.
"So in Love" is one of the best songs Cole Porter ever wrote, with its perfectly appropriate lines: "So taunt me, and hurt me, deceive me, desert me; I'm yours till I die. So in love with you am I." Shakespeare's words don't lend themselves well to music, and even Porter couldn't come up with decent melodies for "Were Thine That Special Face" (a bore that deadens the first act for a few minutes) and Kate's "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple," which is not only embarrassingly sexist (Shakespeare's fault, not Porter's) but a disappointingly lackluster closing number for the show. "Cantiamo D'Amore" and "Bianca" are worse than mere filler material to allow for costume changes; they're just plain bad.
On the whole, though, this is one of Porter's best shows, with some of his wittiest lyrics. It's great to have a live orchestra, which Landmark Musicals remains committed to despite the added expense. They sound fine under Darby Fegan's direction, but a few times they outplay the singers so that some of the lyrics are unintelligible. It is a shame not to catch all of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
As usual with Landmark, the production values are superb. The set by Dahl Delu is impressive, as always. Costumes by Ashley Miller are wonderful and lighting by Shawn Nielson and sound by Simon Welter are equally fine. Maddie Barker, the stage manager, and Gayle Smart, her assistant, make everything come off flawlessly. The whole shebang is directed expertly by Zane Barker.
The two leading actors are terrific. This is the best work I've seen from Erick Seelinger, who plays Fred/Petruchio. Amy Poland as Lilli/Kate: Why have you been away from the stage for so long? Both performances are of professional caliber. Hasani Olujimi gets to sing "Too Darn Hot," and he's always a showstopper no matter what the role. Gary Bearly is a lot of fun as one of the gangsters. Most of the rest of the large supporting cast (26 people altogether in this show) do a great job. My only problem is with the secondary leads, Courtney Giannini and Louis Giannini. They perform the choreography, which is fine, but their singing is not up to par, and Louis is not the most graceful of dancers.
All in all, this is a musical theater classic that deserves its status. Plus, it's the only tolerable way to see The Taming of the Shrew, if you ask me. Don't miss it.
Kiss Me, Kate is being presented by Landmark Musicals at the Rodey Theatre in the University of New Mexico Center for the Arts on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Through March 26, 2017. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Added Saturday matinee at 2:00 on March 18. Tickets $22 to $26, available at UNM box offices or online. Info at www.landmarkmusicals.org.