When Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me Kate first premiered on Broadway, it featured a cast of 40 singers and dancers. This makes sense, as there are many roles in this show and enthusiastic, toe-tapping numbers like “Another Openin’ Another Show” and “I Sing of Love” need to be propelled to the audience with a huge sound. NextStop Theatre Company proves this wrong, however, as their cast of 11 covers every role in this complex musical and projects music so fully and beautifully that you would think you were listening to a cast of 100!
With music and lyrics by Cole Porter and a book by Bella and Samuel Spewack, Kiss Me Kate tells the story of the inner-workings of a production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
Renowned actors Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham take on the roles of Petruchio and Katherine, while struggling with their unresolved feelings of love, which were clearly not left behind following their divorce. It doesn’t help that Fred also has his eye on Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca, and that Lois’s boyfriend Bill Calhoun has signed Fred’s name to a ten thousand-dollar IOU. And all of this on opening night!
Karen Vincent is absolutely amazing as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine. Her true acting and comedic prowess shows during her performance of “I Hate Men,” and her beautiful operatic trills perfectly accentuate “Wunderbar.”
A veteran of the DC-area theatre, Paul Scanlan (Fred Graham/Petruchio) is the true essence of a stage star. His rich voice soars during “Where Is the Life That Late I Led,” and his performance during the reprise of “So In Love With You Am I” gave me chills.
The effervescent and exquisite Emily Levey wows the crowd as the coquettish Lois Lane/Bianca. She gorgeously glides across the stage as she sings “Always True to You” with a voice as smooth as honey.
Stephen Russell Murray (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio) shows off his fleet feet as he croons “Bianca,” and Gangsters Kevin Place and Drew Stairs kept the audience laughing through the entire show and especially during their hilarious rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Director Michael Bobbitt’s ability to present a full-scale Broadway musical with only 11 actors is truly amazing. His staging is inventive and intelligent, using the entire theatre as his “stage” and incorporating interaction with both the audience and Musical Director’s Steve Przybylski’s live band. Bobbitt, Przybylski, and Choreographer Rachel Leigh Dolan deserve huge applause for their collaborative efforts to create the sexiest version of “Too Darn Hot” that I’ve ever seen.
Scenic Designer Elizabeth McFadden has created an authentic backstage set with beautiful curves in everything from the proscenium arch to the costume rack. Lighting Designer Max Doolittle is able to keep in actors in full view even as they move around the entire theatre, but the most expertly lit scenes include the use of a dropped chandelier for Lilli Vanessi’s dressing room and the shadows cast during “Too Darn Hot.” Costume Designer Kristina Martin incorporates beautiful brocades and velvets for the Shrew scenes but is also spot-on with the late 1940’s fashion, down to the pin curls and lace gloves.
NextStop Theatre Company’s entertaining and inventive production is everything that musical theatre should be! It’s a unique chance to see a production that is truly “Wunderbar,” so run to NextStop Theatre Company to see Kiss Me Kate!
Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours including a 15-minutes intermission.