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Herbert Wolff Reviews "Kiss Me Kate"

Recently, Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts – under the artistic direction of Julianne Boyd – has opened its summer season with a vigorous, winning Broadway-style musical.  Memorable recent productions have been Guys and Dolls in 2011…Fiddler on the Roof in 2012…On the Town in 2013.   This flair and quality continues with its current season-opener: the ever-popular Kiss Me Kate, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

The post-World War II years were a high point in American musical theater, and Cole Porter was one of the most admired creators.  In 1949, Kiss Me Kate won every top award for a musical, and ran for almost 2,000 performances.

The book – the story – by Bella and Samuel Spewack involves a theater company touring a production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  The leading man and woman were formerly husband-and-wife, but despite old friction and current new romances still have moments of wistful reflection and affection.

However, the plot is ultimately incidental to the music and choreography…and these are superbly performed.  Under the stage direction of Joe Calarco, choreography by LorinLatarro, and music direction by Darren Cohen…this is a truly big production, with an impressive cast of two dozen performers, including the principals and the ensemble of singers and dancers.

And you know you’re in for a special treat with the opening number: the full cast on stage for a rousing rendition of Another Opening, Another Show.

This is a first-class production…expertly paced with music and movement…whether the scene be sentimental or raucous…or the action is in a star’s dressing room or an Italian village square.  And there are 17 such scene changes, with never a lapse in the telling of the story or the spirit of the show.

There are, indeed, principal performers – and they as well as the entire cast are to be praised.   Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart portray the central characters…the former husband and wife.  Bring to their roles personal charm, acting skill, and vocal excellence.  A highlight is their duet to reminisce when they were at the height of their careers in a lusty duet of Wunderbar.

Two other lovers – younger, but equally unsure are their romantic involvements – are Mari Davi and Tyler Hanes, where she assures her lover in song: “I’m always true to you in my fashion.”

Another highlight of the show is a soft-shoe rendition of Brush Up Your Shakespeare, performed by Carlos Lopez and Michael Dean Morgan.  It demands an encore.

Without reservation, this is a highly recommended summer treatone you’re certain to urge friends to attend.

Kiss Me Kate plays now through Saturday, July 12th, at Barrington Stage Company, in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Herbert Wolff studied under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and subsequently had roles with summer theater companies in upstate New York and on “live” television.He is former vice president of International Television Association and former Chairman of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Scientific and Technical Education. Herb continues to write, direct and appear in stage plays. For over 25 years he has been the on-air reviewer of theater and opera productions for WAMC/Northeast Public Radio.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.