Asheville Community Theatre’s Kiss Me Kate runs on Friday and Saturday evenings with a Sunday matinee through June 30th. This Cole Porter musical opened on Broadway in 1948 and it earned the Tony for Best Musical. The story within a story weaves together a musical production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with the on and off-stage relationship between Fred Graham, (played by John C. Hall) the show’s director, producer, and star, and his leading lady, his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (played by Wendy Morrison.)
Becky: First off, the talent of the entire cast, top to bottom, blew me away. The singing, dancing and acting will exceed anyone’s expectations of community theatre. I felt like I could have been watching a musical in any major city across the country.
Cicely: Oh yeah, I totally agree. Except your seats will never be as good in one of those cities! I just loved how intimate the production felt and with how impressive the acting is you would never know that the tickets are so reasonably priced. And that’s coming from a college kid!
Becky: Unlike a lot of musicals, this show actually had a pretty clever plot. I read that this was a “new type of musical” in its time, one in which the story was more emphasized, and that makes sense.
Cicely: Yeah, I’m always shocked at how well musicals can integrate the plot musically. It doesn’t matter how clever the plot is if the acting and singing abilities aren’t there, though; Wendy Morrison could have been singing about her tax returns and I would’ve been mesmerized.
Becky: I know that musicals aren’t for everyone, and I’ve heard people complain about the artifice of people bursting into song. That’s why this musical is so perfect. It’s a musical about people putting on a musical, so of course they have to sing about their feelings. Duh!
I thought the direction by Chanda Calentine was very well done. “Another Op’nin, Another Show” is a great song, and you are introduced to the large cast in a very fun and lively way. Morrison, who plays Kate, really took command of the stage from the moment she steps on stage- she looked very sophisticated and glamorous. She was a standout for me. Her voice is amazing, and I think she has great comic timing as well. Who were the standouts for you?
Cicely: I had a few standouts, but Pasquale LaCorte really stole my heart. He plays one of two gangsters hired to collect gambling debt from an IOU with Fred Graham’s signature on it. I could not imagine a better fit for this role. LaCorte was exactly as I imagined a mobster to be, physically tough yet verbally quick enough to put the pretentious Vanessi in her place.
Becky: They cracked me up! “Brush Up on Your Shakespeare” was a great number, as was “Where Is the Life That Late I Led,” by John C. Hall.
Cicely: My favorite was “Too Darn Hot.” It really encompassed what was great about music in the 1940s and the dance-off between the actors made it that much more enjoyable. But beware, it’s still stuck in my head.
Becky: In some ways I felt this was like a dance performance within a musical. The choreography by Beth Chepke was fantastic, and the cast featured members of several dance organizations in Asheville including the Asheville Ballet and Asheville Dance Theater. I heard lots of loud “oohs” and “ahhhs” from other members of the audience during some of the more acrobatic moments!
Cicely: It was a great surprise when I thought I was going to see a musical and ended up seeing a Shakespeare play, gymnastics meet, and dance recital all within the span of three hours. Talk about time well spent!
Becky: We need to talk about the pink elephant in the room here: what does this play say about the role of women and what are we left to think? To me, the male/female battle is harmless and often funny. If people take issue with the somewhat dated (sorry Shakespeare) sex roles, I think opportunities abound for heated and friendly discussions, and isn’t that part of the fun of going to see a play?
Cicely: I think you’re right, but I also think the cast did a good job of conveying that the mindsets of the 1500’s and even the 1940’s are not necessarily the politically correct ones in 2013. There is definitely some sexism present, but I think it’s essential to make the parallel between the main plot and The Taming of the Shrew work.
Becky: There really is nothing like a night at the theater. If you enjoy a good musical, Kiss Me Kate is not to be missed! When we talk about Asheville’s vibrant arts scene, Asheville Community Theatre should be in that conversation. Great set design, great music, singing and dancing- truly something for everyone. If you are looking for a good date night or a multi-generational outing that everyone can enjoy, this is it.
Cicely: Well said, Mom.