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Musical Theatre Review Print

Broadway at Duke Review: Kiss Me, Kate Battle of the Sexes Still Delights After 45 Years

February 21, 2004 - Durham, NC:

The NETworks Presentations, LLC production of Kiss Me, Kate, which Broadway at Duke brought to Page Auditorium on Feb. 16, is a magnificent recreation of the Tony Award®-winning 1999 Broadway revival of this brilliant 1948 backstage musical by Sam and Bella Spewack (book) and Cole Porter (songs). This National Tour of Kiss Me, Kate even features Martin Pakledinaz's Tony-winning costumes from the 1999 revival.

Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew (1593-94), and set in a Baltimore theater in 1948 during an out-of-town tryout of a new musical based on Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare's epic Battle of the Sexes, Kiss Me, Kate centers on the backstage and onstage battles between actor/producer Fred Graham (Dexter James Brigham) and his spunky ex-wife, B-movie star Lilli Vanessi (Emily Herring). Graham also plays the supremely egotistical Petruchio, and Vanessi plays the wildcat Kate, in the show's play-within-a-play.

Brigham is a terrific singer, with an operatic range, and an outstanding comic actor. He delights the audience with his antics as an inveterate ladies' man who finds out, to his great chagrin, that he still loves his ex-wife.

Herring is every bit Brigham's match,. An outstanding singer and comedienne, she plays the perfect foil for Vanessi's womanizing ex-husband and the brutish boor Petruchio.

Kiss Me, Kate co-stars Lori Eve Marinacci as lovely man-crazy Lois Lane/Bianca and Derek Roland as her fickle fella, Bill Calhoun/Lucentio, a hopelessly irresponsible gambler who signs his boss Fred Graham's name to all his IOUs. Their duets of "Why Can't You Behave?" and "Always True to You in My Fashion" number among the show's finest musical moments. And so do "Another Op'nin', Another Show" as sung by Colleen Longshaw, playing Miss Vanessi's dresser, Hattie, and "Too Darn Hot" as sung by Garfield Hammonds, playing Mr. Graham/'s dresser Paul. Of course, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" as sung by Brad Simmons and Noel Larrieu, playing two gangsters come to collect all those IOUs, is still a show-stopper.

This traveling version of Kiss Me, Kate, superlatively staged by director Joe Leonardo and choreographer Todd L. Underwood, was one of the highlights of the 2004 Triangle theater season to date. In addition to Martin Pakledinaz's eye-catching costumes, the show featured a striking set by Jeff Modereger and superlative work by lighting designer Diane Ferry Williams and sound designer Shannon Slaton; and the exuberant accompaniment by music director Kristy L. Nicholson (keyboards), assistant music director Bryan McAdams (keyboards), Jeffrey Katz (trumpet 1), Peter Auricchio (trumpet 2), Michael Lorman (trombone). Andrew Malay (reed 1), Rob Ercolano (reed 2), and Leo Sharamitaro (drums) made all those musical gems in the show's standout Cole Porter Score sparkle even brighter than usual.

Broadway at Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5083. Kiss Me, Kate (National Tour): http://www.kissmekatetour.com/ [inactive 7/04].