Review by Danny Gaisin
A year or so ago, while critiquing a Stratford presentation directed & choreographed by Donna Feore; we created our own descriptive adjective. The term we came up with was “Dancical “and it is the perfect qualifier to exposit our opinion of Theatre Sheridan’s take on the Cole Porter blockbuster – “KISS ME KATE“. Direction is faultless; costumes are impeccably detailed; the entire cast meet every professional standard. Lastly, choreography is superlative, creatively and performance.
This concept of a musical version of a Shakespeare play is not unique; ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona”; The Boys From Syracuse and of course ‘West Side Story’ are all familiar.
Even the idea of a play-within-a-play was incorporated into ‘Summer Night’s Dream’ wherein ‘Snug; Bottom; Flute; Snout & Starvling’ perform for the King & Queen. Thus the entire construct has precedents.
It’s not widely acknowledged, but when writers Sam & Bella Spewack were involved with a 1935 staging of ‘The Taming of The Shrew’; stars Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne were constantly bickering off-stage; mirroring the play itself. This led to a parodic idea and by incorporating the memorable compositions of Cole Porter; a Broadway icon was created that is still a favourite seventy years later!
Director Ann Hodges is immaculate in her detailing; emphasis, and artistic interpretation. From the opening chorus number that amalgamates ‘Another Opening; another Show’ with the customary overture; the audience can feel that this is going to be something special…even for Sheridan’s high standards. Her set arrangement manages to capture the essence of staging a play, utilizing visual access to the backstage management and challenges. Manipulating a cast of over forty performers with all the blocking intricacies necessary seems a daunting task but Hodges has covered all the bases without error or component overlook. She manages to have her on-stage charges illustrate the evolution of female equality that was still in infancy during WWII, without sermonizing or attempting to proselytize. Full marks!
The choreography by Stephanie Graham is ambitious and demanding. The intricacies & synchronization are worthy of the Rockettesᵀᵐ . The ensemble performs & executes every step without hesitation. Both the opening and finale offerings are indelibly hum or sing-along numbers. The Stage itself seems to have been enlarged and the decor by Robin Fisher will give a sense of BTDT to everyone who has had a moment or two (or more) being backstage. I’d swear that I could even smell that unique odor of sweat and make-up especially during the ‘Too Darn Hot’ number. Coupled with her costume details; the audience feels the tension and hyperactivity facing the managers and crew behind the props.
As for out front; the lead characters are Fred & Lilli. Eudes La Roche-Francoeur is the Petruchio hero, while Savannah Maxwell is his ‘Kate’. Having seen both Alfred Drake & Howard Keel in this role; it’s hard not to compare; but La Roche-Francoeur holds his own with a strong acting talent; pleasant singing voice and demeanour. Maxwell is a standout. Her soprano voice is pure throughout the entire range and her diction is of operatic standard. The secondary love story is between Kevin McLachlan & Lindsay Rolland Mills. He’s the gambling Bill Calhoun, while she is the chorus girl Lois. They also must interact as Lucentio and the delectable Bianca. Their Act I duet about ‘Behaving’ is only outdone by a show-stopping ‘Always true to you in My Fashion’ whose lyrics are pure poetry, albeit somewhat dated. There may be folks who can’t identify with Clark Gable; and ‘Sanka’, if it’s still around was the first decaffinated coffee, but the rhymes are still a giggle. She also has another big aria. When she’s singing about her three suitors; Tom, Dick & Harry, yours truly HAD to sing along!
There are a couple of other support characters that are noticeable by their contribution. Emily Robertson‘s ‘Hattie’ and Stephen Thakkar‘s “Paul” are terrific; and the gangster duo of Lauren Thomson & Braeden Woods are a hilarious ‘Mutt and Jeff’ parody. Their big Brush Up on Your Shakespeare’ number is a pun-filled parody that will glean a response from everyone who is familiar with the Shakespeare playlist.
It’s become a habit for Sheridan to have an annual entry in our paper’s Top Ten listings; but it’s a sure thing that KISS ME KATE will be part of the 2018 itemization! Definitely see it! It’s on stage until Feb. 25th.