54 Sings Kiss Me Kate – Fresher Than Ever

By Joel Benjamin

Settling down to hear Scott Siegel’s 54 Sings Kiss Me Kate I had two thoughts: Do we really need to hear another Kiss Me Kate? And, what on earth could Scott Siegel do to make Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate fresh?

The irrefutable answers to those questions are: Yes; and a great deal! Mr. Siegel has made this familiar seem new, with humor, wit and some truly brilliant singing from a game and hilarious cast. This was the kind of performance that renews your faith in the “old chestnuts” and demonstrates the power of musicals to keep that old tingle running up and down our spines.

Scott Siegel provided a barebones synopsis as the tunes came tumbling, one gem after another. The libretto by Samuel and Bella Spewack, the now-familiar mash-up of a backstage romance with Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, involves the still passionate former spouses, Fred and Lilli going at each other while a second romantic couple, Lois and Bill, the “ingénue and juvenile,” have their own romantic ups and downs, also mirrored in Shakespeare. Into the fray come two comic gangsters to collect a debt, along with old romantic partners who show up at inconvenient times. These comedies of errors, both backstage and onstage provide rich opportunities for song, beginning with “Another Openin’ Another Show,” Porter’s attempt at out Berlin-ing Irving Berlin.

The casting was just about perfect. With Lesli Margherita (late of Dames at Sea) as Lilli/Katherine and Bob Cuccioli as Fred/Petruchio, it was easy to feel the passion beneath the greasepaint. Even their lighthearted “Wunderbar” had an undercurrent of electricity, while their individual versions of “So In Love” were quite moving. Both were in particularly good voice.

Carole J. Bufford’s Lois was sassy, sexy and good fun. Her rich voice and lithe physicality turned “Why Can’t You Behave,” “Always True to You (In My Fashion,” and “Tom, Dick or Harry” into little gems, in the latter joined by Jeff Raab, Adam Yankowy and Jacob Pressler who harmonized beautifully as her beaus.

Speaking of lithe physicality, her Bill, Danny Gardner (also recently of Dames at Sea), disregarded the space limitations of the tiny stage and just tapped—and sang—the hell out of “Too Darn Hot.”

Bob Stillman, as Lilli’s on-again-off-again fiancé, made the most of his duet, “From This Moment On” with Ms. Margherita.

However, it was Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan as the two inept gangsters who stole the show with their “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” This was probably the best interpretation I’ve ever heard. They were brash, funny and even a little sexy, their accents perfect. They even wore their hats as if they were born to this period. They literally stopped the show, having to perform all of Porter’s many hilarious encores.

The rest of the cast, all good singers: Harriet Taylor, Rick Hinkson, Christine Aranda, Samantha Owen and Christopher Hlinka.

Ross Patterson’s music direction was, as usual, perfection.

Scott Siegel is always up to something, so keep your eyes and ears pealed for upcoming events.

54 Sings Kiss Me Kate (January 7, 2016)
Feinstein’s/54 Below
254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue, New York, NY
For reservations call 646-476-3551 or visit www.Feinstein’s/54Below.com
For more information visit www.siegelpresents.com

Photos: Maryann Lopinto