One of the joys of the American theater
In William Shakespeare’s 16th century comedy “The Taming of the Shrew,” a wandering fortune hunter named Petruchio does battle with a fiery independent woman named Katherine. The woman’s wealthy father, weary of dealing with his bumptious daughter, hires Petruchio to woo and wed Katherine, for a considerable reward. Petrochio proceeds to marry Katherine, breaking her spirit with mental and physical abuse, finally rendering her a compliant mate to her lord and master.
It sounds grim but the play is hilarious, yet for generations it also has raised the ire of those who object to its portrait a the male sexist society that brutalizes women, just because they are women. So theaters that stage “The Taming of the Shrew” have to walk a delicate line in confronting the cruel treatment of a proud woman like Katherine. Cole Porter took on the challenge in his 1948 musical.“Kiss Me Kate” and the result is one of the joys of the American theater—loaded with Porter’s inimitable wit and his brilliant score.
Porter and book authors Sam and Bella Spewack conceived of “Kiss Me Kate” as a show within a show. Its outer shell takes place in Baltimore, where the company of “Kiss Me Kate” is rehearsing for a Broadway opening. The action deftly shifts between modern Baltimore and the 16th century streets of Padua, where Petruchio conducts his campaign to subdue the spitfire Katherine...
The Marriott Theatre is reviving a “Kiss Me Kate” that has many highs and a few moments that aren’t so high. On the positive side are a collection of brilliantly conceived and performed dances choreographed by Alex Sanchez. There are star doubling turns by veteran Chicagoland actor Larry Adams as the musical’s leading man Fred Graham and Petruchio and Alexandra Palkovic as Lois Lane (not the Superman heroine), a modern young performer on the make and Bianca, a 16th century ingenue. As Lilli/Katherine, Graham’s feuding ex wife, Susan Moniz sings radiantly as always...
There can be no quibble with the durable majesty of the Cole Porter score, a parade of hits like “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” “Wunderbar,” “So in Love, “Too Darn Hot” (brilliantly danced by the terrific ensemble), “Always True to You Darling in My Fashion,” and “So in Love.” The clever and literate “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” was delivered by two gangsters who seemed to wander out of a Damon Runyon show... The reliable as always Terry Hamilton did well in the comic role of an army general with his eye on the ladies. Jonathan Butler-Duplessis led a magnificently athletic “Too Darn Hot.”
My nomination for the performer I can’t wait to see again is Alexandra Palkovic. She has unlimited singing and dancing chops...and after overcoming an early stereotype as a silly airhead she turned both her characters into three dimensional people. Her work in “Tom, Dick, and Harry” and “Always True to You in My Fashion” are total joys. The work by the chorus matches her step for step in skill and energy.
The design credits include Scott Davis for his sets, Theresa Ham for her spot-on 1940’s costumes, Jesse Klug for his lighting design, and Michael Daly for his sound. Once again Patti Garwood supervises the pit orchestra, nine musicians who sounded twice their number.
“Kiss Me Kate” runs through January 16 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Most performances are Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $60. Call 847 834 0100 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.