You can tell when you're seeing a Darko Tresnjak directed production. Beyond the creative staging and stellar design (mostly provided by the excellent Alexander Dodge), what is very clear is Mr. Tresnjak's adoration for the material he's presenting. The result is a fully realized production, rich with artistic performance. His latest offering of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate is another example of trademark Darko Tresnjak excellence.
Kiss Me, Kate is the story of a production of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew,” which in the musical is being mounted at a Baltimore theatre. Fred Graham (Mike McGowan) directs the show and plays Petruchio, the lead. Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Anastasia Barzee) plays Katherine in the show, though, only serving to complicate their relationship. “Kiss Me, Kate” takes place exactly one year after Fred and Lilli’s divorce.
Fred has started falling for Lois Lane (Megan Sikora), who plays Bianca. Lois, however, dates Bill Calhoon (Tyler Hanes), who plays Lucentio and who has put a substantial gambling debt--a $10,000 IOU, to be exact--in Fred’s name. Naturally, this causes two gangsters (Joel Blum and Brendan Averett) to come looking for Fred and demand the money from him.
Meanwhile, Fred and Lilli start to re-develop their romantic feelings toward each other when Fred’s flowers and cards. Intended for Lois, the flowers accidentally get sent to his ex-wife. Fred tries to take the card away, but Lilli tucks it into her bra so she can read it later. Eventually she does, and you can imagine how the chaos begins.
Mr. McGowan and Ms. Barzee are perfectly cast as the ex-spouses. They sing Porter's music the way its supposed to be sang. Better yet, they have the right amount of chemistry to make the fights and passion seem real.
Stealing every scene they're in are Ms. Sikora and Mr. Hanes with not only incredible dance numbers but with fun and lively performances. And Mr. Blum and Mr. Averett could not have been more perfectly cast as the two starstruck gangsters, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is always a personal favorite.
In addition to Mr. Tresnjak's fine direction, the production features exceptional choreography from Peggy Hickey.
Ms. Hickey's knowledge of dance during that time period is illustrated in a fun and engaging way which elevates numbers such as "Tom, Dick or Harry"(which can't help itself from playing off the title a bit) and "Bianca". Her choreography in these numbers was so good that I found myself wanting more during the more iconic numbers such as "Another Op'nin' Another Show" and "Too Darn Hot".
Alexander Dodge continues to amaze with his scenic design, as does Fabio Toblini and Philip S. Rosenberg with Costumes and Lighting respectively.
While the show is true to the time it was written, especially when it comes to the roles of women, this production treats those moments with a wink and with some creative staging, even dismisses some of them.
If you're not headed to the beach or campground this weekend, I highly recommend this. In the program, Mr. Tresnjak states that it's taken him 25 years to direct Kiss Me, Kate, I'd say this was well worth the wait.
The show at the Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, runs through June 14. Running time of the show is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets are $25 to $85. Information at 860-527-5151 and hartfordstage.org