THEATRE REVIEW BY TYLER COLLINS.
Sheridan’s new production of Kiss Me, Kate is a classic musical blockbuster in every way. It’s the highlight of Theatre Sheridan’s 2017/18 season to date, and a thoroughly entertaining show from the beginning until the curtain falls.
In 1949, Kiss Me, Kate was the first ever winner of Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Musical. Director Ann Hodges (of last season’s Dogfight) has staged her new production with the same glamour and sincerity that defined America’s golden age of musicals nearly 70 years ago.
Stuffed with the songs of Cole Porter, the show is set of the course of an opening night of a new musicalized The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore. As the show goes on, so does the feud between divorced couple and co-stars Fred Graham (Eudes La Roche-Francoeur) and Lilli Vanessi (Savannah Maxwell) as they wrestle for the love they once had…and possibly still do.
While Porter’s music is the energetic backbone of the show, Hodges’ staging keeps ticking like a well-oiled machine. The opening scene isn’t, like the title suggests, “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.” Instead of a typical opening, she fills the scene in the style of “Runyonland”, the famous anti-overture that opens Guys & Dolls.
Several other dynamite numbers anchor the play, including a few extended dances that really show off what the company can do. Each is made more entertaining by split-second timing between the lights, moving sets and hard-working ensemble.
And what an ensemble! Kiss Me, Kate is a perfect vessel to showcase Theatre Sheridan’s talented cast. Their vocal power and precise, tight dance ability make the ensemble as rich and exhilarating as the set.
Two of the best songs open both the first and second act, each featuring one of two minor characters, star-crossed assistants Hattie and Paul. Emily Robertson’s exuberant Hattie holds down the opening, but equally dazzling is Steven Thakkar’s silky smooth Paul leading the showstopping “Too Darn Hot”. Both Robertson and Thakkar nail these numbers.
Other noteworthy performers include two of the supporting women: First Malindi Ayienga as dual role Harry and Baptista, whose elderly characterization gets funnier as the show goes on. The other is Lindsay Roland Mills’ Lois Lane, whose “Always True To You in My Fashion” is a knockout.
But the runaway scene-stealers of the night are Laura Thomson and Braeden Woods as the unnamed gangsters, First Man and Second Man. Their comedic teamwork really sells the book’s humour and charisma. They earn every rolling laugh through the entire performance.
The only thing holding back some of the wit and comedic flair through the rest of the show is a choppy pace. There are occasional scenes where the slow delivery becomes unfunny – especially in one overlong fight scene that plays strangely awkward.
But these short moments don’t last long. More importantly, they don’t disturb the flow of the performance and the giddy musical romp keeps chugging against the lavish industrial backdrop.
Every scene and locale both onstage and off exude a seductive grace and poise of the old-world American theatre. Robin Fisher’s scenic design of exposed brick and playful sets offer some spectacular surprises. Rich brown walls, heavy yellow lights, and bright costumes celebrate the romantic style of Broadway’s golden years.
The greater challenge was connecting the famous play to today; why is it worth seeing the screwball backstage love story in 2018? Hodges invests ample time on stage focusing on the variety of romantic stories told and what they mean.
We’re still having these same conversations today about how we show love to those we care about. Sacrifices are made of our own comfort, and you can’t be happy trying to change someone. Love comes from accepting them for who they are.
There’s a brilliant parallel between Shakespeare’s Shrew and the backstage antics of the show-within-the-show. Samuel and Bella Spewack’s book is a clever story, modern adaptation and love letter to the theatre all at once.
Porter and the Spewacks would be proud of the enthusiasm and charm filling the stage nightly. It might still be winter outside the campus, but it’s too darn hot inside Macdonald-Heaslip Hall. Kiss Me, Kate is the warm-up you don’t want to miss.
Kiss Me, Kate
3 out of 4 Stars
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack.
Ages 10 and Up. 2hrs 45mins. Musical Comedy.
Directed by Ann Hodges.
Starring Eudes La Roche-Francoeur, Savannah Maxwell, Lindsay Roland Mills and Kevin McLachlan.
Now Playing at Trafalgar’s Macdonald-Heaslip Hall, 1430 Trafalgar Road, Oakville. Runs until Feb. 25. Tickets range from $20-25, available online with the Theatre Sheridan box office, or by calling 905-815-4049.