THE SHOW MUST GO ON DEPARTMENT: As WPCNR was about to publish the following review I was advised Friday by the Westchester Broadway Theatre that the outstanding actress playing Kate, Christianne Tisdale whose performance I reviewed below has had to withdraw from the production after just two weeks of performances on the orders of her doctor for medical reasons,
This has created a real life 42nd Street moment. (42nd Street being the show that actually depicts this kind of situation).
Jeannie Shubitz has taken over the role after seeing the show once and two live rehearsals. The cast and crew think she is taking over the show without a hitch and her lyric soprano is splendid they say.. Ms. Shubitz says according to Pia Haas of WBT about her 42nd Street moment, “You don’t think about it. You just do it.” WPCNR plans to see Ms. Shubitz’s Kate this week. But based on the reports, the unfortunate circumstances in no way detract from my original review–JFB
WPCNR ON THE AISLE. Theatrical Review by John F. Bailey. October 1, 2013:
For the next month you can brush up on your Shakespeare with Westchester Broadway Theatre’s best revival yet of Kiss Me Kate.
This is romance of the musical theatre scored by Cole Porter to book by Samuel and Bella Spewack that played for 1,077 performances, given Broadway swagger, style and glitter by raise-the-roof talent by WBT in its best revival yet of the classic.
The dynamic romantic duo of Christianne Tisdale as the tempestuous diva Lilli Vanessi playing the feisty fiery shrew, Kate and William Michals as Fred Graham and Petruchio in Cole Porter’s musical version of the Bard’s Taming of the Shrew is chemical!
She relates to Mr. Michalswith smoldering live passion you can feel with the booming baritone William Michals as producer/actor Fred Graham, former husband who plays Petruchio in the mock Taming of the Shrew performance. The sizzle and pop of these two drive the show like no other WBT production of it.
The twist in this musical done, (like every Porter show is just for the fun of it)– is a winner because the musical is based on the real life on and offstage relationship of the volatile Broadway romance of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The banter and bicker and feuds backstage when that famous acting couple playing the leads in the Taming of the Shrew inspired the Spewacks to approach Porter with an idea of a musical. Cole knew a crowd pleaser when he read the first scene according to WBT’S Pia Haas’ program notes.
On Opening night, the first Act gets you started with one of the most famous scenes in Broadway, a single stage light on an empty stage. It is opening night for The Taming of the Shrew as the cast assembles, and Kate and Fred are getting ready in their adjoining dressing rooms.
You’re treated to one of Porter’s most famous big starter tunes, Another Op’nin’; Another Show”. Filled with acrobatics, attractive emsemble executing energizing designs of Director/Choreographer James Brennan who has mounted a seamless production.
On Opening Night it built from meandering First Act to driving second act, highlighted by my favorite comic bit, Brush Up Your Shakespeare hilariously performed by Michael Kubala (Left) and Roger Preston Smith as two gangsters above who blunder on stage in front of the audience and perform a soft shoe. The two pinstriped enforcers perform an improvised softshoe with a panache that though you know what’s coming, you laugh at their moves anyway.
That the gangsters are even in the plot are due to the gambling woes of Brian Ogilvie as Bill Calhoun who has lost big time in a floating crap game. Bill is scolded by his girl friend, Lois played by Missy Douse, who sings Why Don’t You Behave.
Bill has signed an IOU in Fred Graham–the Shrew producer’s name, so the gangsters come looking for Fred, not Bill in one of those mistaken identity farces (what would Broadway musicals due without mistaken identity farces?)
The gangsters create a problem for Fred, (Michals) is trying to convince Lilli the divine Christianne Tisdale his former wife to stay in the show. Lilli is planning to marry again, and wants out of the show.
The bickering between Fred and Lilli turns to Wundarbar, the best song in the show when Michals and Tisdale first dazzle us with their chemistry. Rarely have I seen such a smooth natural fit of voices between these actors creating a believable electricity that makes them seem right for each other. That’s acting! Lilli moved by Fred’s reminisces, sings the Porter classic, So In Love.
Next the audience is treated to musical Shakespeare (Porter’s greatest musical achievement, setting Shakespeare to music and verse) as the theatre company starts the performance of TheTaming of the Shrew. It is a play within a musical, set against marvelously soaring Padua Renaissance spires and blue Italian skies (one of the WBT’s most ambitious sets from John Farrell) as a rambling crew of minstrels sing We Open in Venice .
Led by Michals as Petruchio, they encounter James Van Theuren as the troubled Baptista who cannot marry off his daughter Kate because she is such a feisty wench. Suitors vie for her hand, but the spirited Kate rejects them singing I Hate Men—Ms. Tisdale showing a completely different side as the actress Lilli Vanessi acting and singing.
Women in the audience loved this song. Micals as Petruchio attempts to woo her meeting with rebuff after rebuff in a splendidly choreographed wrestling and kicking match and laments.
In their dressing rooms between acts Lilli discovers flowers meant for another woman from Fred. But they were not for her. Fred had sent them to Lois instead. She slips the gift card in her bodice goes back on stage for the Kiss Me Kate number and discovers the mistake which infuriates her and gives a laugh-filled crisis-spawning Kiss Me Kate, ending up in the arranged marriage against Kate’s will.
In reality, the question is will she stay with the production for a week so Fred can pay back the gangsters who seek a payoff of the debt, or go to marry her general-pal played with pompous puffery by Darren Kelly? That’s the scene as your Act II unfolds.
The special nuance of this KMK production is the care in casting the comic cameo personalities and nowhere is this most evidenced by the laughs Mr. Kelly produces with his perfect sense of timing and line delivery.
The Second Act opens with one of Cole Porter’s trademarks – the song that has nothing to do with the plot.
The cast waiting in the alley before performing the second act of the Taming of the Shrew sings Too Darn Hot – with Christopher Fishburne soloing setting the sensuality among the seething cast with rising heat and suggestion.
The song has no relationship to the show, it is just there, because Cole Porter musicals are all about giving you a good time – and taking the edge off the edge. Cole’s attitude was always if it’s a great song throw it in, and the audience always loves those Cole bits.
Calas evokes knowing nods from every man in the audience with Cole’s spoof of the married man, when his Petruchio sings Where is the Life Late I Led. You will laugh til you plotz.
Roving eyes of both men and women are spoofed when Missy Dowse returns after a liaison and to the chagrin of her boyfriend Bill, sings, Always True to You in My Fashion. Dowse puts on her dancing shoes and ability to sass and blare one notch below Mermans of the past. Dowse discards her New Yorka accent for the full blown flower of freedom and naturalness this classic toe-tapper, finger wagging classic Porter about wrote roving eyes.
Into the climax we go: How will the debt the gangsters seek be resolved? Does Fred get back with Lilli, does Lilli stay with the show?
You’ll have to go to find out.
But what do you think?
It’s a Cole Porter musical!
Kate sings the answer in her touching, I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple. Not a well-known song but its delivery strikes the perfect note to end the play within a musical, and rekindle the romance that never ends.
It is playing through November 3 at the WBT and is a gem for the fall. Box Office: 914-592-2222, or go to www.BroadwayTheatre.com