By: Isa Goldberg
April 4, 2019: A most memorable of Broadway Valentines, Kiss Me Kate, is getting a rousing revival at Studio 54, with Kelli O’Hara (Lilli Vanessi) and Will Chase (Fred Graham) leading a gifted ensemble. Indeed, one of the surprising highlights of this production is Paul Gemingnani’s orchestration of Cole Porter’s masterpiece. Capturing the show’s zest and verve, it’s the orchestra that keeps us bouncing in our seats.
Warren Carlyle’s choreography, too, breathes those rhythms with such pizzazz that we don’t want the endless, breathtaking, heart pounding tap numbers to ever stop. To that end, Corbin Bleu as lover boy Bill Calhoun, delivers the stamina and power that reveal an old-fashioned sense of masculinity. The kind that goes deep and feels believable. It’s a great twist to the character, as his loyalty to his girlfriend Lois Lane (Stephanie Styles) appears to be an on-again, off-again affair.
Playing Bill’s love interest, Styles portrays a red headed moll with a squeaky voice and all the quirks it takes to entertain us. Stephanie is an actress, after all. As the lone shark to whom Bill owes money, John Pankow is an iconic gangster – a no nonsense man of nonsense, strutting in his baggy pants, and pin stripped suit. And Adrienne Walker, as Hattie, Lilli’s trusted assistant is powerful in song.
In fact, Kelly O’Hara has a great voice for Lilli, singing in an operatic style. She’s so real at it, we hardly notice the note of pretense. It’s a great leap for the singer who Broadway audiences know best for her lighter style, as in her leading roles in South Pacific, and Nice Work If You Can Get It. As the lothario, Will Chase is a fetching womanizer – as if such an anomaly could exist! He’s boyish, and even a bit goofy.
Loosely based on The Taming of The Shrew, Sam and Bella Spewack’s book gives deference to Shakespeare’s play by adapting the primary plot points, but with an additional pinch of satire for levity. Such a well -known rom com, this revival bursts into music and dance, glancing less effortfully at story telling. Scott Elliot’s direction leans toward a camp interpretation of the musical, which certainly is playful at heart.
Still, the musical numbers, “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” “Too Damn Hot,” and “Wunderbar,” among the greatest in the American Songbook, are the soul of this extraordinary show. And it’s totally entertaining!
Kiss Me Kate ****
Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 30 mins. including intermission. $59—$352. (212) 719-1300. www.roundabouttheatre.org. March 14—June 2.
Photography: Joan Marcus