Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Kiss Me, Kate
Although the show feels long by contemporary standards (with an intermission, this production takes nearly three hours), it holds interest from start to finish with Porter's tuneful score sung by some fine voices. Inspired by William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me, Kate alternates between a Baltimore theater backstage where a divorced pair of stage stars, Lili Vanessi (Kali Marsh) and Fred Graham (Evan Koons), are running hot and cold as they prepare for a performance of a musicalized version of Shakespeare's comedy. Their enmity spills over into the show's action, the familiar tale of wooing and winning between Petruchio, an arrogant suitor, and Katharine, a hot-tempered older daughter whose younger sister can't be romanced until "the shrew" is claimed by a suitor.
Porter was initially hesitant to put his own words against Shakespeare's immortal text. He shouldn't have worried. In fact, some of his best numbers, especially "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," the clowning set piece by a pair of low-brow gangsters (played by Jamie Steele and Jeremiah Plessinger) who become enamored of the stage, pull off that feat with comic finesse and memorable humor.
Many of the show's songs stand on their own as some of Porter's best work, but they are for the most part integrated into the story, whether they're part of the modern backstage bickering ("So in Love," "Wunderbar") or the couple's battles onstage when they can't keep their personal differences away from Shakespeare's plot and the songs supporting it: "We Open in Venice," "I've Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua," and "Where Is the Life that Late I Led?"
Marsh is a young performer with the raven-haired beauty and gorgeous voice suited to the role. Her feisty rendition of "I Hate Men" is a high point, and her duet, "From This Moment On," with a secondary suitor, Harrison Howell (Gregory Shaffer), again showcases her talent. Marsh brings Kate onstage initially at such a furious level that it's a challenge to accept her final song using words directly lifted from Shakespeare's text, "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple," but a quick exchange with Petruchio/Fred as that number concludes reveals that she's still quite feisty.
Handsome, uber-masculine Koons has the size, voice and charisma to make Fred the center of almost every scene he's in. His several Shakespearean numbers, "Were Thine That Special Face" and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?," work as character revelation for Fred and Petruchio. Koons' antic self-introspection in the latter song, espying audience members in the front rows and cavorting around the stage, makes this number a high point.
Kiss Me, Kate provides secondary characters with some excellent solo numbers: The flirtatious "Always True to You in My Fashion" features sprightly and sassy Savannah Boyd; and "Bianca" gives Aaron Marshall a chance to show off his fine tenor voice. Their early duet, "Why Can't You Behave?," is also a solid vocal moment.
Almost a dozen animated dancers perform the show's numerous dance numbers. Perrino's choreography keeps them in motion from start to finish. It might be suggested that there's a bit too much of these sequences, which tend to over-extend the momentum of the story. But it's worth mentioning that "Too Darn Hot," the jazzy second act opening number of the cast backstage suffering from the heat, is a standout, especially William Gibson's vocal performance, which starts out slowly and gains momentum.
All in all, this production feels rather old-fashioned by contemporary standards. Scenery, typical of shows at the Covedale Center, is largely two-dimensional painted flats. There is a bit more mugging to the audience than is truly necessary. The portraits of Fred and Lili are just a little too one-note, and the reversal of feeling between them feels rather abrupt, given their brash first-act demeanors. Nevertheless, this is a high-spirited production, and the rendition of the show's classic theatre tunes (especially "Brush Up Your Shakespeare") will surely provide earworms for anyone who attends.
Kiss Me, Kate runs through April 8, 2023, at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glendale Avenue, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit CincinnatiLandmarkProductions.com or call 513-241-6550.