By Martie Thompson
“Kiss Me Kate” is basically Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams and featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter … and audiences at Alhambra Theatre and Dining are in for a double treat with this rollicking battle of the sexes. The music and lyrics are integrated into the script (Porter’s response to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s shows) and the play became Porter’s biggest hit with more than 1,000 performances on Broadway. It won the first-ever Tony Award presented for Best Musical in 1949.
The story is actually a play-within-a-play about actors touring with the stage version of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The characters switch back and forth between their names and their Shakespearean counterparts. The lead roles are portrayed impressively by Christopher Sanders and Traci Bair, as divorced couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who star as “Petruchio” and “Katharine.” Despite their failed personal relationship, they find themselves drawn to each other. Add in Fred’s dalliance with ingenue Lois Lane/“Bianca,” portrayed by Lauren Robinson, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill Calhoun/“Lucentio,” played by Matthew Alexander, as well as two mafia hit men who come to collect Bill’s gambling debt from an unsuspecting Fred (Bill signed Fred’s name on an IOU) and what ensues is a comedic case of misunderstandings. Backstage antics of the cast spill over into the on-stage performance of “The Taming of the Shrew,” with hilarious asides by the actors during their ad libbing.
Porter’s music provides a showcase for powerhouse vocals by Sanders, Bair and Robinson. Probably one of the most well known numbers, “Wunderbar,” is beautifully performed by Sanders and Bair as their Fred and Lilli personas. Bair as Lilli shows her vocal range and comedic delivery with “I Hate Men” and Sanders as Petruchio brings the house down with “Where is the Life that Late I Led?” Robinson as Bianca leads a suggestive rendition of “Tom, Dick or Harry” with suitors Gremio, Hortensio and Lucentio that will have adult audience members chuckling.
The clever lyrics in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” performed by the two gangsters (Joshua McKinney and Joey Swift) are sure to bring laughs and finally a sigh of disappointment when the two are finally, literally, dragged off the stage.
The ensemble numbers are also highlights. “Another Op’nin, Another Show” at the start of the first act and “Too Darn Hot” at the beginning of the second act allow the company to strut their stuff to James Kinney’s pulsating choreography.
Executive Chef DeJuan Roy has imagined another themed menu to accompany this show. Diners have their choice of chilled cucumber bisque or Caprese salad to start, followed by entree choices of southern style pepper steak, BBQ chicken, scallops carbonara or vegetable kabob with tofu. Save room for refreshing raspberry sorbet with a Meyer lemon cookie or Key Lime pie for dessert.
“Kiss Me Kate” will be on stage at Alhambra Theatre and Dining through Sept. 9. Visit www.alhambrajax.com to buy tickets.
Photo courtesy Alhambra Theatre and Dining
The cast of “Kiss Me Kate.”