Rockville Musical Theatre Kiss Me, KateBy Bob Ashby • Oct 31st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Rockville Musical Theatre
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville, MD
Through November 13th
2:40 with one intermission
$20/$18 Seniors/$16 Students
Reviewed October 28th, 2011
A classic of what is sometimes called the “Golden Age of the Broadway Musical,” Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, is given an uneven performance by Rockville Musical Theatre. The show’s strongest point is the performance of its female lead, Sarah Powell, whose voice, presence, and timing are top-notch in every way. She commands the stage. Her singing in numbers like “So in Love” and “I Am Ashamed that Women Are So Simple” is at a level of professional quality heard only infrequently in community theater.
In this backstage story, involving a play-within-a-play version of The Taming of the Shrew, Powell plays Lilli Vanessi, diva of stage and screen, who in turn plays Katherine in a musical version of Shrew. The actor/manager of the company, Fred Graham, who plays Petruchio in the play-within-the-play, and Lilli are, a year after their divorce, still emotionally involved with one another, both in love and in acrimony.
A prototypical Broadway leading man baritone role, originated on Broadway by Alfred Drake and played in the movie version by Howard Keel, Graham/Petruchio needs to have a strong, easy, arrogant masculinity to counter the strength of his aggressive bride. Unfortunately, Harv Lester falls well short of bringing that quality of the character alive, with the result that his scenes with Powell lack chemistry. Lester’s voice is adequate, though he makes some questionable vocal choices, such as shouting rather than singing some key lines in “Where Was the Life that Late I Led?”
There is a similar imbalance in the second couple in the show. As saucy soubrette Lois Lane (no, not that Lois Lane), Bianca in the Shrew sequences, Heather Whitney shows the requisite naughtiness, moves well, and does quality vocal turns in “Always True to You in My Fashion” and “Why Can’t You Behave?” Opposite her as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio, Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg is perhaps too much Clark Kent to keep up with Whitney in acting, movement, or singing, showing some vocal strain in “Bianca.”
Among the supporting characters, Lee Michele Roseenthal (Hattie) uses a strong belt voice to good advantage, starting the evening off right in “Another Opening, Another Show.” Opening Act 2, Hark Tagunicar (Paul/Gremio) is even better in the jazzy “Too Darn Hot.” As the two comic gangsters, Jerry Stringham and David E. Elvove have fun with “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” that collection of egregious puns on the titles of the Bard’s plays. Bianca, Lucentio, Gremio, and Hortensio (Paul Loebach) wring all of Porter’s sexual innuendo from “Tom, Dick, and Harry.” The ensemble is lively, sounds good, and does a fine job with Kate Arnold Wernick’s choreography, to greatest effect in the opening numbers of both acts. Jeffrey R. Breslow’s direction keeps the show moving at a smart pace.
The physical production does well when, as in the backstage and dressing room scenes, simplicity is the rule, in the form of several movable set/set dressing pieces. The evening’s greatest suspense attends changes into the play-within-a-play set, when a fabric false proscenium piece frequently threatens to get hung up as it is drawn across the stage (fortunately, it made it every time) and large wavering flats unfold, sometimes tentatively.
Note to sound designers: if you are going to partially mike a show, try to avoid having miked and unmiked performers speaking or singing lines in close physical or temporal proximity. The difference in levels heard by the audience is very noticeable and quite distracting. In this production, the operation of the miking for actors was inconsistent, often being too loud and boomy and several times coming on after an actor had begun speaking.
Costuming is generally effective, particularly for Lilli, the gangsters and the ensemble women. There was a missed opportunity concerning General Harrison Howell (Andres Aviles). Howell is clearly intended as spoof on Douglas MacArthur, to the extent of the script having him say “I shall return.” However, instead of having a characteristic MacArthur-like outfit, he wears a plain Class A green uniform of a somewhat later era in Army couture, with precious few ribbons for so egotistical a general. To give the general due credit, he is remarkably prescient, uttering, in a show set in 1948, Richard Nixon’s 1952 Checkers Speech line about “a good Republican cloth coat.”
In a very cute touch, the program handed to audience members as they entered included an insert program for the play-within-the-play, in this case opening in Washington’s Ford’s Theater in July 1948. The stage manager for the Ford’s production is listed as Ralph Cramden. Who knew he worked in theater before he put on weight and took up driving buses?
- Fred Graham/Petruchio: Harv Lester
- Lilli Vanessi/Katherine: Sarah Powell
- Bill Calhooun/Lucentio: Jonanthan Cagle-Mulberg
- Lois Lane/Bianca: Heather Whitney
- Paul/Gremio: Hark Tagunicar
- Hattie: Lee Michele Rosenthal
- Harry Trevor/Baptista: Bruce Rosenberg
- Hortensio: Paul Loebach
- Pops: Gayle Edward Wilson
- Ralph: Eric Yeh
- First Man: David E. Elvove
- Second Man: Jerry Stringham
- General Harrison Howell: Andre Aviles
- Wardrobe Lady: Charlotte Hendrix
- Dance Captain: Teri Klein Allred
- Ensemble: Andrea Burbeister
- Ensemble: Don Michael Mendoza
- Ensemble: Hayley North
- Ensemble: Christine Pash
The Production Staff
- Producer: Karen Fleming
- Director: Jeffrey R. Breslow
- Musical Director: Stuart Y. Weich
- Choreographer: Kate Arnold Wernick
- Assistant Producer: Dana Robinson
- Assistant Director: David Monahan
- Rehearsal Assistants: Steve Quillin, Ellen Ryan
- Stage Manager: Debbie Shelley
- Assistant Stage Manager: Ellen Ryan
- Set Design/Master Carpenter: William T. Fleming
- Scenic Artists: Patsy Di Bella-Kreger, Leigh Partington
- Lighting Design: Stephen Deming
- Sound Design : Kenny Neal
- Sound Engineers: Dana Sato, Daniel Tobiassen
- Costume Design : Eleanor Dicks
- Costume Assistants: Richard Battistellim Jamie Breckienridge
- Properties/Set Dressing: Nancy McLaughlin
- Properties Assistant: Christal Taylor
- Light Operator: Steve Quillin
- Sound Operator: Denise Gilmore
- Spot Operator: Abhishek Shrestha
- Curtain Operator: Tony Dwyer
- Hair/Makeup Design: Shannon Cron
- Set Construction/Painting: Terri Klein Allred, Cathy Butler, Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, Nancy Davis, Stephen Deming, Tony Dwyer, Karen Fleming, David Kayson, William Kolodrubez, Rebecca Meyerson, Hayley North, Dana Robinson, Jerry Stringham, Gayle Edward Wilson, Joy Wyne
- Audition Assistants: Sharon Addabbo, Patrick Jordan, Nancy McLaughlin, Hayley North, Ellen Ryan
- Photographers: James Pash, Bruce Rosenberg
- House Manager : Scott Richards
- Logo Artwork: Michael Holmes
- Program: Karen Fleming
Disclaimer: Rockville Musical Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7303.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.