Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2014

Kiss Me, Kate

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield
through July 12, 2014
by Shera Cohen

“It’s delightful. It’s delicious. It’s de-lovely.” Cole Porter’s own words from another of his musicals perfectly describe Barrington Stage’s (BSC) production of “Kiss Me, Kate.” Let’s bring on the’s energetic, playful, and endearing.

Photo by Kevin Sprague
BSC has set its own benchmark so high in producing musicals that it has the difficult task of, at the very least, reaching the mark. At best, exceeding it. Exceed, they do as BSC literally jumps into its 20th season with the first of “Kate’s” memorable songs; “Another Op’nin, Another Show.” The show? “Kate” is a play within a play where backstage problems and personalities come center stage. “Kate” mingles Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” with a post-WWII city-to-city pit-stop theatre company. It’s The Bard meets Damon Runyon. And, it’s two love stories.

Nearly all of Porter’s 18 songs are familiar (the sweet “So In Love,” the comic “I Hate Men,” and the rousing “From This Moment On”). It would be difficult for any audience member not to leave the house humming a medley. Porter’s lyrics are full of double entendres and farce, and are sometimes ridiculously funny. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” falls into all three categories.

Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart portray squabbling exes behind the play’s curtain and Kate and Petruchio on the stage within the stage in front of the curtain. Got that? It doesn’t matter. What matters most is the truth and humor they give to their characters in their private moments and interactions with each other. Bravado and ego abound -- loudly, relentlessly, and hysterically. Oftentimes, theatres hire actors who can sing, or singers who can act. There is a difference. Rarely are the skills equal. Stanley and Stewart make for a perfect match. Stanley’s soprano voice is almost operatic. Stewart holds onto his songs with passion.

The pit orchestra -- yes, they are really in a pit with dancers jumping and spinning in precarious moves within inches of the players’ heads -- makes 12 musicians sound like 25. Joe Calarco’s direction and Lorin Latarro’s choreography are as in synch as their lead actors and the two plays. “Too Darn Hot” opens Act II as the entire ensemble mixes jazz, ballet, and modern dance into a sultry, sweaty, and steamy showstopper. And the costumes…the sets…Just get ye' to Pittsfield.