REVIEW: Kiss Me, Kate (Circle Theatre)

          
     

The Taming of Cole Porter

 

 

Jonathan Altman, Jake Autizen, Rachel Quinn, Wes Drummond - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre

   
Circle Theatre presents
   
Kiss Me, Kate
  
Written by Cole Porter and Bella Spewack
Directed by
Bob Knuth
at
Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $22-$26  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

What you want with this musical revival is to hear a giant click, the sound of everything going right in Circle Theatre’s hoped-for perfect revival of Cole Porter’s musical-within-a-musical. For director and set designer Bob Knuth what’s already perfect is a sparkling script depicting the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of temperamental thespians. Modeled on the ever-excitable thespian duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne (a fairy tale marriage in every way), hellion Lili and egomaniac Fred enact a Jonathan Altman, Jake Autizen, Rachel Quinn, Wes Drummond - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatrelife-imitates-art parallel to the quarreling lovers they croon in a Baltimore performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.” More than before, relocated to Oak Park, Circle Theatre now has a stage wide enough to embrace all of Kevin Bellie’s cinemascopic dance routines, which in their previous Forest Park digs five blocks west on Madison Street threatened to burst at the seams.

If a spinoff can improve on its source, this toxically witty 1948 gem, which restored Cole Porter to Broadway glory after a disappointing ten-year dry spell, betters the Bard. Both a hymn to the neuroses that nurture showbiz eccentricities and extremes, it’s also a witty sendup of the perils that follow when narcissistic Broadway stars perform in private as much as under the lights. For these stagestruck souls the sound of no one applauding during their domestic quarrels must be maddening. Never has a show, backstage and centerstage, had more reason to go on.

Crafting many moments to the max, Knuth transforms Porter’s gift into a promising assemblage of perfectly timed verbal and physical comedy, sometimes superior singing, contagious dancing, dazzling costumes, period-perfect wigs, and serviceable sets. But the hard work of the 23 eager-beaver performers is critically undermined by Carolyn Brady Riley’s heavy-handed musical direction: The culprit here is the (minimal for Cole Porter) four-person band who perversely seem to make up for their small number by playing too loud throughout (a vice that’s also afflicted past Circle Theatre shows). Accompaniment does not mean overkill. No one wants these singers to use mikes but on opening night they were more than challenged to sing and speak out these brilliant Porter lyrics and, because the orchestra wouldn’t let them, a lot of laughs died along with the words. Adding mikes would only escalate the screamfest. The solution is the taming of this band.

 

John Roeder, Andy Baldeschweiler, Tommy Bullington - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre Andy Baldeschweiler and Jenny Sophia 3 - Kiss Me Kate -

Everything hinges on the chemistry between the tamer and the shrew: Jennie Sophia’s Lili (who reminds us of the young Patti Lupone) isn’t just the spitfire diva who craves to be domesticated; she delivers the dreamer (“So in Love”), desperate for the right excuse to stop fighting love. Equally commanding as Petruchio or his hammy self, Andy Baldeschwiler’s Fred never drops a joke in his patter numbers (“Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”), except when the orchestra drowns him out. At least he gets to register the sheer joy of singing “Wunderbar” every night. But, given a hostile accompaniment, he strains more than he should to unevenly deliver songs that should sound as effortless as they were composed 62 years ago.

Rachel Quinn and Wes Drummond couldn’t be sweeter second bananas, as venal Lois Lane and trusting Bill Calhoun wonder “Why Can’t You Behave?” A crowd-pleasing, vaudevillian sensation, John Roeder and Tommy Bullington are the vaudevillian gangsters whose “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is as funny as you can get without asphyxiating an audience on their own laughs.

But the signature triumph belongs to the hard-hoofing, all-crooning chorus, whose Lindy-hopping, jitterbugging dances look totally authentic and still seem improvised on the spot. If only the orchestra could have brought out all the sensuous sounds that Porter intended for songs that can be treasured and never bettered.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

Cast of Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre

 

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REVIEW: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (Two Pence)

A mixed bag at Two Pence Shakespeare

 

2Pence # 6

   
Two Pence Shakespeare present
 
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
 
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Wells
at
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St., Evanston (map)
through August 21  | 
tickets: $9-$20   |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The publicity materials for The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet led me to believe that this adaptation was to show the after-effects of war, and how society deals with returning veterans. Such an interpretation of possibly the Bard’s most renowned  work held, for me, remarkable potential – but I saw very little effort to portray a post war mentality. The conflict in most of Shakespeare is universal. There are and will be rivalries and feuds for as long as there is humanity. The civil unrest in Romeo and Juliet comes off here more as a feud or an unfortunate gang war.

2Pence # 3 In spite of this, It is the actors that make this production spellbinding and fun, despite the tragic outcome. Taking place in a converted train station, the sounds of the Metra pulling in add to the production’s nostalgic setting between the wars.

The tussling between the Capulet and Montague fractions is convincingly vicious and bloody. Daniel McEvilly is absolutely stunning as Mercutio. Some would argue that Mercutio is the most compelling character and McEvilly makes the case in this production. He stalks the stage with a feral presence that gives a razor sharp edge to the gang unrest. The words of Shakespeare sound mellifluent and stabbing all at once. Mr. McEvilly’s Mercutio is profane and fierce; one feels more sadness when he meets his tragic end than at the conclusion of the play when the titled lovers lay dead.

Austin Campion portrays a gentle Romeo with grace and a light touch. Mr. Campion begins tentatively, but then we have to remember that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet’s characters as youths on the brink of adulthood. This Romeo fights with his buddies against the Montague’s and speaks lustily of girls, but Campion successfully portrays the longing soul beneath the veneer of bravado.

Christa Sablic (Juliet) brings joy and a wonderful colt-like energy to her role. Juliet has been played as a mooning petulant girl for literally 400+ years. Ms. Sablic portrays her as a teenager who falls in love. It’s been a while since I was a teenager but I do remember how ‘he’ was all consuming and all about which I thought. Ms. Sablic plays Juliet as a sensuous young woman who is ripening under the spell of love and, yes, lust.

Another standout in this production is Sherry Legare as Nurse. Ms. Legare adds a compelling comic touch to her role as Juliet’s guardian and conspirator. She takes on the visage of a toddling old nanny with all but the rolled up stockings, seemingly paying homage to Carol Burnett, but with a more muted slapstick take.

2Pence # 5Charles Cowen as Juliet’s parent-approved suitor is something out of a 1930’s film drama. His portrayal of all a parent wants for a daughter to marry is spot on. Cowen has a royal posture and perfects the arrogant sneer that one has come to love in the character, versus the tragic hero story.

The rest of the cast performs quite ably, but the rhythm noticeably changes in the speaking scenes with Lady Capulet and Juliet. KC Karen Hill plays Lady Capulet, and she comes off as miscast. Ms. Hill is a beautiful actress, but she projects a speedy energy that is out of sync with the story and the rest of the cast. Part of this is costume and makeup/hair choices – the production’s setting is between the wars that took place in the earlier 20th century and Ms. Hill is costumed and coiffed for the post punk 90’s.

Andy Baldeschwiler is appropriately stern as Lord Capulet, possessing a very dignified presence and a most traditional Shakespearean-sounding voice. Additionally, Eliza Hofman is fun to watch in two dual male roles. She has excellent comic timing and exudes a nice gangster aura in spite of being quite pretty.

Any adaptation of Shakespeare runs the risk of seeming pompous and out of touch with the times. It is classic theatre, and taught in almost every school as a reading assignment. Getting the rhythm of Shakespeare and having the ability to translate it into universal understanding is what is difficult for a lot of people. Two Pence’s aspirations for creating a post war ambiance falls a little flat and perhaps should have been more conventional with the era costuming and props.

Given the production’s material and groovy performance space, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is an enjoyable evening of classic theatre.

   
       
Rating: ★★½
   
   
2Pence # 1 2Pence # 2

NOTE: For this production, Two Pence has collaborated with the Vet Art Project, and some production proceeds will be donated to the organization. The show is performed at the Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main Street. This is a cool space in the Metra station and accessible by CTA, Pace and of course Metra. Check out www.twopenceshakespeare.org for tickets and information about the Vet Art Project. The play runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through August 21st 2010.

      
       

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