Cole Porter’s classic comedic musical Kiss Me Kate is the Rockville’s Musical Theatre’s second production.of the season. Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate is light and upbeat fare, and styled as a ‘play within a play.’ The story involves the backstage happenings and the parallel themes between a Baltimore theater cast and their production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. For both story lines, the primary tension is between the production’s stars Lilli Vanessi (Sarah Powell) and her ex-husband, and fellow actor, Fred Graham (Harv Lester). A love-hate relationship is set on course with the storminess of Shakespeare’s ‘shrew’ Kate and the balance of Cole Porter’s disarming puns. In the sidelines – a cast member dives into the underworld of big gambling, a summer heat wave rages, and an impending marriage to an important national figure is readied. Fun and cheeky musical numbers are combined with entertaining dance numbers to form the foundations of this popular musical.
What can I say about this production? The opening night performance was like a game of marbles….overall entertaining but involving some “shooter” gems and some rough around the edges marbles in the game. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but most of the cast did not ‘have their star on’ and lacked confidence to ‘command’ the stage. Sarah Powell, Harv Lester, Heather Whitney (Lois Lane), and Andres Aviles (General Harrison Howell) gave some convincing, beautifully sung – albeit variable, performances. However, for me Heather Whitney was the most consistent performer with her acting, dancing, and singing being the most entertaining.
The choreography (Kate Arnold Wernick) and the lady dance troupe members were also very capable, consistent, and smooth. The loan shark hit men of David E. Elvove and Jerry Stringham were fun and their campy version of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” produced some good laughs. Additionally. the small and live orchestra accompanied the action. The conductor (Stuart Y. Weich), woodwinds, and brass section were particularly strong. The and set design by William T. Fleming (also the Master carpenter) was creative, colorful, and inventive and costuming by Eleanor Dicks was period specific. I particularly found the set for the Taming to be clever as it subtly had to denote the transition to the Shakespearian production. Both Jeffrey R. Breslow (Director) and Karen Fleming (Producer) have worked hard to generate a fun, family-friendly musical.
The production is an ambitious project for any troupe, but for a volunteer community theater this production was quite an undertaking. For a volunteer theater it’s not unusual to have a variety of capabilities and skills. However in this case it’s apparent that the cast members all have the strong, multiple talents required to carry off the musical. Yet there was still something ‘missing.’ So what was lacking to transition this production into an extraordinary performance? I think what most of the cast was missing was sheer confidence and stage presence. Were nerves at work? Even the productions stars improved during the course of the show as they appeared to become more confident and comfortable. In a few scenes where dance numbers involved the male cast members supporting lady dancer dips, lifts, and drops….I found myself worrying about the hesitancy of the men at catching gripping, and holding their partners. Likewise some of the singing was a bit hesitant instead of full force. However, I believe these concerns will disappear as the run continues.
Yet my unsolicited and truly unprofessional advice would be to convince the cast to act like they own the stage….add some bravado, confidence, and all out over-the-top assertiveness…or at minimum….’fake it until you make it.’
Rockville Musical Theatre’s Kiss Me Kate is colorful fun filled with great Cole Porter songs and some wonderful performances. I am confident that the show will change from ‘wonderful’ to ‘extraordinary’ as the run continues.
Kiss Me Kate plays through November 13th at Rockville Musical Theatre at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets call (240) 314-8690, or purchase them at the box office in the lobby of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre from 2pm to 7pm Tuesday through Saturday, and two hours prior to all performances. A small number of tickets are also made available online at TicketLeap.