Kiss Me, Kate--Still a Robustly Entertaining Show
By Joseph Cervelli
While it is hard to forget the wonderful 1999 revival of Cole Porter's masterpiece "Kiss Me, Kate" the new production presented by The Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 is just as robustly entertaining. There may be a few stumbles along the way but when you have the incomparable Kelli O' Hara in the title role with her rapturous voice (just try not to stand on your feet and applaud at her "So in Love") all is well with this joyous show.
The book by Sam and Bella Spewack is still intact, although there is some additional material added by Amanda Green to give it a bit more of a modern feel. But no worries. She knows that to make any major changes would be criminal to say the least and her light touches make it work and should appeal to all audiences.
The story has never been "Kate's" strongest asset for that belongs to the buoyant score by Porter. The book has the two leads O'Hara as Lilli Vanessi and Will Chase (he starts out a bit shaky but then zeroes into the role) as her egocentric actor ex-husband Fred Graham appearing in a touring company in a production of "The Taming of the Shrew" which resembles their own life together. While Graham has a roving eye he mistakenly sends flowers and a love note to Lilli who still has strong feelings for him even though she is involved with a pompous military man Harrison Howell (Terence Archie.) When she finds out that Graham is seeing someone else she decides to take the fighting moments in "Shrew" to a new level of kicking him every chance she gets. While Scott Ellis' direction is every bit as energetically entertaining as you would expect from this skilled director some of those scenes head too far into slapstick.
There is a subplot which works perfectly thanks to Corbin Bleu as the gambler/hoofer Bill Calhoun. With his megawatt smile Bleu lights up the stage. While it is hard to forget Michael Berresse's amazing climbing in his "Bianca" number in the previous revival Bleu makes the song his own with his tapping up the stairs and on the ceiling. He is in love with the slightly dippy showgirl Lois Lane (a fine Stephanie Styles.) Her "Always True to You in My Fashion" is a standout.
The one number that falls surprisingly flat is the crowd pleasing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" with Porter's brilliantly clever lyrics. Sung by the two hoodlums First Man (John Pankow) and Second Man (Lance Coadie Williams) the song never takes off. Both actors seem never to grasp the wittiness of the lyrics and seem to rush through it which is a big disappointment.
O'Hara is not only in magnificent voice but plays the humor just right without going over the top as in the savvy "I Hate Men." Chase does seem to be trying too hard in the beginning of the show (his voice is always top notch) but does far better in the second act.
Warren Carlyle still one of the best choreographers around never fails to disappoint with his bouncy, inventive dance routines.
The stalwart set designer David Rockwell has created a colorful set (love the sight gag with the clouds disappearing showing the next town the traveling troupe is touring in) and Jeff Mahshie's costumes are perfect.
Having the stage bathed in red lighting during the high powered "Too Darn Hot" is a tribute to veteran lighting director Donald Holder's expertise.
With O'Hara in the title role, that incomparable score, and a fine cast it is hard not to have a most fun filled evening at this revival.
Tickets are available at Studio 54 254 West 54th Street or by calling 212.719.1300.
PHOTOS: JOAN MARCUS