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‘Kiss Me, Kate’ at The Playhouse Theatre

November 6, 2011
By JACK FELIX - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

UNIVERSITY PARK - You don't need a coupon to see two shows in one, only a ticket to see Penn State Centre Stage's "Kiss Me, Kate." "Kiss Me, Kate," Cole Porter's musical adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," which has 7:30 p.m. performances on Nov. 7 through 11 and Nov. 14 and 15 at The Playhouse Theatre.

Productions of Porter's war horse musical, first staged more than 60 years ago, may emphasize either the score, if there are cast members with operatic-sounding voices, the choreography, if both the principals and ensemble can really hoof it, or the script's outlandish humor, subtle jokes and witty dialogue.

Penn State Centre Stage's production amazingly highlights the score, the choreography and the comedy with a thoroughly entertaining result.

Article Photos

TINA HAY/Special to the Sun-Gazette
?“Kiss Me, Kate” has 7:30 p.m. performances on Nov. 7 through 11 and Nov. 14 and 15 at The Playhouse Theatre. For tickets ore more information, call 814-863-0255 or 800-ARTS-TIX.

Only the comical aspects of Sam and Bella Spewack's book didn't always strike the audience's funny bone during the preview performance, upon, which this review is based.

The primarily college-aged audience failed to pick up or react to the many barbs (Noel Coward's sexuality) or many of the suggestive lyrics ("Tom, Dick or Harry"). But there was rousing applause for the production numbers beginning with "Another Op'nin', Another Show" and ending with the rousing "Kiss Me, Kate." With Director Stephen Brotebeck also choreographing the production, the dance numbers are often dazzling. The swinging, highly energetic "Too Darn Hot" - which is too darn long by today's standards - opens Act II and is the show's best dance number.

Dan Riddle leads a 16-piece orchestra in playing the Cole Porter mostly familiar score. Set backstage in a Baltimore theater in 1948, impressario Fred Graham and her ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, wage their own battle of the sexes while rehearsing "The Taming of the Shrew." Emma Stratton, a sophomore theater major, plays the diva Lilli and Katherine Minola (aka Kate the Shrew), acting lovelorn and bawdy and singing "So In Love" beautifully. And when her jealously arises on stage, she growls and snarls at Fred, who is playing Kate's would-be husband, Petruchio.

Paul Jordan Jansen, an Actor's Equity member, with a bulky build and booming voice, is nigh perfect playing Fred and Petruchio. Jensen is relegated for a couple of solos that are misplaced or almost unnecessary ,but he leads Kate and the ensemble in "Kiss Me, Kate," closing out Act I and Act II in grand style. And although it may not politically correct, Petruchio does give the shrewish Kate a good on-stage spanking.

This production, with a large cast, features many solid characterizations, but especially high marks go to Sarah Ellis, playing the ingenue Lois Lane and Kate's younger sister, Bianca. The senior theater major shows a comical flair with the ditsy "Always True to You In My Fashion."

And for the almost showstopper, there is the charming gangsters, educated in prison libraries, who don't menace but do urge everyone to "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," one of music theater's most rhythmical songs.

If there were not so much talent singing, dancing and moving around The Playhouse stage, the massive, sliding set pieces and hugh drops might have overwhelmed the cast. This great looking set design, colorful, eye-catching costuming and the lighting patterns with lots of stage haze - which luckily didn't set off the smoke alarm - add immeasurably to the production values.

The downside of "Kiss Me, Kate" falls not on this production but on the show's structure. Although the dialogue is sharp, the plot is complex. Cole Porter always featured too many reprises and some dances would benefit by trimming. Act I, although running longer, is faster paced and breezier than Act II, which gets bogged down a bit, resulting in a nearly two and three quarter hours' running time.

Penn State Centre Stage's production of "Kiss Me, Kate" is a very impressive, musical treat. One that discerning theatergoers may give thanks for, even before Thanksgiving. For tickets or more information, call 814-863-0255 or 800-ARTS-TIX.



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