If you have an urge to “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” try a comic turn at Covedale Theater’s production of Kiss Me Kate. Structured as a play within a play, Kate features two feuding ex-spouses (still secretly in love with other) who battle in “real life” and on stage as stars of the Shakespeare play Taming of the Shrew.
The Plot of Kiss Me Kate
In the Cole Porter masterpiece originally produced in 1948 and frequently revived afterward, Fred Graham (Evan Koons) plays Petruchio in a financially strapped production of Shrew while trying to win back his ex-wife Lilli (Kali Marsh) who is planning to re-marry. Lilli plays Kate (the shrew) battling both her ex-husband and Petruchio in the play.
Influenced by a recent revival, the first scene opens with cast members and backstage personnel getting ready for the upcoming play via a large production number “Another Openin’, Another Show”.
Now we are introduced to the “second bananas” Lois (Savannah Boyd also playing Bianca in Shrew) and Bill (Aaron also as Lucentio) asking each other “Why Can’t You Behave?” Bill has a gambling problem, has lost a lot of money in a card game and has signed an IOU for $10,000 in Fred Graham’s name. Two thugs (Jamie Steele and Jeremiah Plessinger) visit Fred to discuss payment of the debt which Fred doesn’t know about. This leads to many comic scenes later.
Before opening night, both Fred and Lois verbally spar but then reminisce about their early relationship and many co-acting experiences by singing “Wunderbar”. (Porter wrote this as a spoof of operettas but no one got the joke and it ended up as one of his most popular songs.) Both Marsh and Koons have excellent voices and their duet was a joy.
Despite the apparent bitterness Lois feels for Fred, when he leaves, she sings the gut-wrenching soliloquy “So in Love”, one of Porter’s best songs. Fred later reprises the song.
For the rest of the time, the play shifts from the “real world” (backstage Broadway comic drama) to the actual Shakespeare play Taming of the Shrew. It’s not hard to follow because the costumes (designed by Allison Jones) change from modern dress to period garb and from modern English to Shakespeare dialogue. It helps to have a passing acquaintance to Shrew but it is not necessary.
The secondary plot in Shrew, is the wooing of Kate’s younger (much less combative) sister Bianca by Lucentio, Hortensio (William Gibson) and Gremio (Dayen Payton). Kate’s father has declared that Kate must be married before Bianca so the suiters convince Petruchio to court Kate. Then, there is the interplay between Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate and also the comic characters Lois/Bianca and Bill/Lucentio.
Classic Songs in Kiss Me Kate
Cole Porter is renowned for extremely clever lyrics with many puns and plays on words, interlaced with double-entendres and sexual innuendo including songs such as “Always True to You in My Fashion”, “I’ve Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua”, and “Where is the Life That I Led?”. The best comic song is “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” sung incongruously by the ignorant thugs while referencing most of the Bards plays with puns and innuendos.
There are a number of production numbers with a good cast of singers and dancers. A highlight is the opening second act number “Too Darn Hot” featuring Kent State senior Gibson. He is a marvelous dancer with a good voice and excellent stage presence. Director Choreographer Genevieve Perrino and assistant Choreographer (and dancer) Cassidy Steele have mixed tap, ballet and comic dance numbers well.
Even though this is, essentially, an old-fashioned comedic musical, the prime roles demand a variety of acting skills. Marsh (as Kate and Lilli) swings between being lovable and a shrill hellcat, between modern life and Shakespearean society while singing poignant love songs and spewing venom in “I Hate Men”. Koons alternates between the insufferable braggadocio of Petruchio to the faux conceit of Fred equally effectively. And each sings very well.
Serendipitously, the real Taming of the Shrew is still playing at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. It was a treat reviewing both plays. Although each may be considered problematic in today’s world because of the depiction of women, Kate in the CSC production is a “modern woman” while Kate in Kiss Me Kate gives as well as she takes. Marsh is actually more volcanic in this version.
Overall, I recommend this show because it has blended a classic, tongue-in-cheek Broadway spoof with a slightly re-imaged version and an excellent cast of singers, dancers and actors. The show is a lot of fun featuring Cole Porter’s best score. The show runs to April 8. Get your tickets HERE.