by Sandi Durell
Without a doubt, in my book, Kiss Me, Kate is genius Cole Porter’s best of the best – you know, love and can sing just about every song in this gorgeously staged production now at Roundabout’s Studio 54. So when pre production chatter about reimagining began filtering in, many wondered what Amanda Green might conjure in that regard as she tweaked the book. Not to worry . . . a word here and there so it’s now politically on target and gender neutral leaving Porter’s and book writers’ Sam and Bella Spewack’s delicious musical in good and faithful hands. However, sometimes it’s nice to just leave a brilliant piece of art alone but we no longer seem to have that choice.
So the play within a play of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew where former spouses Lilli Vanessi/Katherine – the stunning Kelli O’Hara, whose voice trills and thrills with richness, and Fred Graham/Petruchio – the comically well timed, pop voiced Will Chase, fight and battle till they’re black and blue to the delight of audiences as Katherine repeatedly kicks Petruchio in the butt . . . ah, yes, I am woman hear me roar! Albeit we’re used to seeing O’Hara in more tamed and subtle circumstances, she sure lets down her hair with new surprises giving “I Hate Men” the gusto and power it deserves and “So In Love” the heart rending beauty.
Stephanie Styles as ditzy Lois Lane is an adorable bundle of talent and charm opposite Corbin Bleu (as Bill Calhoun), who dances his feet off, even upside down, as they spar in sexy battle as lovers, their dance sequences sizzling. The enhanced double-entendre “Tom, Dick or Harry” (Styles with Bleu, Will Burton, Rick Faugno) is concentrated on ‘Dick’ providing a lot of laughs!
And speaking of dancers, you can’t take your eyes off James T. Lane as he leads up the ensemble in the 2d Act opening of “Too Darn Hot.” It’s another Warren Carlyle choreographed penultimate moment that swings, moves and dazzles the senses.
More comedy prevails with the two gangsters (John Pankow and Lance Codie Williams) who try to collect from Graham and wind up instead in the fun-filled “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Scott Ellis’ witty directorial hand makes this refreshed production soar as the ex-spouse combatants renew their love in David Rockwell’s easy set creations, while Jeff Mahshie’s sometimes lavish but mostly well planned double duty costumes resound with color.
As in the 1999 production starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and the late, great Marin Mazzie, Paul Gemignani still holds the baton.
Kiss Me, Kate is a joyous, lovable and delicious theater experience!
Photos: Joan Marcus
Kiss Me, Kate – Studio 54, 254 West 54 Street, runs 2 hrs. 30 min.thru June 30.