A stellar 'Kiss Me Kate' in Tusten
[Lucy Jan-Turan is a student interning at The River Reporter this summer.]
NARROWSBURG, NY — The Delaware Valley Opera Company continued its Shakespeare-themed season with “Kiss Me Kate,” a Cole Porter musical that originally opened on Broadway in 1948, at the Tusten Theatre on July 29. Having never seen this particular musical before, and not being familiar with “The Taming of the Shrew,” the Shakespeare play on which it is based, I entered the theatre with virgin eyes and ears.
The production, which was directed by Carol Castel, truly impressed me. The stage was lit up beautifully with a hand-painted set by Kay Hines, and the theatre was filled with music from the Delaware Valley Opera Orchestra. Costumes were done by Nancy Hobbs, lighting by Michael Celentano, and choreography by Ed Moran. There in Narrowsburg, I almost felt like I was watching a real Broadway musical.
“Kiss Me Kate” proved to be Cole Porter’s biggest hit, and was his only show to run over 1,000 performances on Broadway. Taking place in the 1940s, the play involves battle of the sexes and women’s liberation. As the hilarious, fast-paced musical unfolds, it is full of mischief, jealousy and scandal.
The plot focuses on a divorced couple playing the two leading roles in “The Taming of the Shrew.” When Lilli Vanessi (Lisa Ferraro) discovers that her ex-husband, Fred (Julian Whitley) has sent the same bouquet she carried on her wedding day to another woman on opening night, she is furious. This results in on- and off-stage fighting between the ex-lovers as Fred desperately tries to save the show by taming this enraged woman. By the end of the production much, much more has come into play including hints of adultery, a nasty general, and two thugs with shiny guns.
Getting to know the characters was quick and easy. Leading actors Ferraro and Whitely brought the scenes vividly to life with their hilarious timing and great voices. Whitely in particular is known for his “colorful characterization and clarion singing.” His powerful, deep voice erupted from the stage and filled the theatre with perfect clarity on every note. Ferraro had a lovely voice as well, and did a great job as she threatened to quit the theatre business mid-performance, move to Washington, and marry her wealthy boyfriend, General Howell (Eric Barsness), who, we are at first led to believe, is a wonderful boyfriend, gentleman, and a dream come true for Vanessi. At his first appearance on stage, the audience quickly discovers this is hardly the case.
“I should hope so!” The general exclaims when Lilli desperately tries to tell him that the two men behind her have guns. He fully supports the second amendment and explains, “Guns don’t kill people, we do.”
Jacqueline Rose played the bubbly and sassy Lois Lane. Rose has a tremendously beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, my personal favorite, and fit the role perfectly. Her perky character grabbed the spotlight with ease as she sang “Why Can’t You Behave?” to her troublesome boyfriend, Bill (Cody Ryan), who gambled his way into a pickle with a couple of gangsters.
The gangsters (Mark Robinson and Scott Silipino) bring their own special brand of goofiness to “Kiss Me Kate.” The two enormous thugs, played as lovable rather than intimidating, looked perfectly ridiculous in their Shakespearian costumes, making for some very entertaining scenes. These two men became some of my favorite characters in the play and did an excellent job on their song “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” which had two encores.
The musical has a romantic and funny ending, mirroring the plot of “The Taming of The Shrew.” In a way, Lilli is the shrew and Fred finally tames her in the end.
The small ensemble did a wonderful job and all of the lead roles were fitting to their characters. Carol Castel put a lot of work into this production and received a surprise bouquet from the actors during curtain call. “I’m chief cook and bottle washer,” she chuckled when I asked her what aspects of the production she was involved with. She is stage director, artistic director, as well as general manager for the DVO, and has been with the company for about 25 years.
“Kiss Me Kate” was an excellent production, and from this experience I would highly recommend seeing their plays. These performances would absolutely appeal to young adults and teenagers as well as parents and grandparents.
The upcoming show is a light operetta called “Merry Wives of Windsor”. As Castel puts it, “This season is a pot pourri of inspiration from Shakespeare. It is a circus of Shakespeare!” For more information about the DVO, visit www.DelawareValleyOpera.org or call 845/252-3136.