Review: 5th Avenue Theatre’s Kiss Me, Kate Is Too Darn Good

Ben Davis as Fred Graham/Petruchio and Cayman Ilika as Lilli Vanessi/Katharine in Kiss Me, Kate at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre- Photo Credit Tracy Martin

During the mid-part of the last century there were several attempts to adapt the works of William Shakespeare into current musicals trends. Kiss Me, Kate is adapted from The Taming of the Shrew, and boasts music and lyrics by the great impresario, Cole Porter. Currently playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Kiss Me, Kate is full of sumptuous songs, clever lyrics, great dancing and a storyline that exemplifies the battle of the sexes. Get tickets and more info here.

The story is a play-within-a-play telling of a group of actors putting on a version of the classic Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s comedy about Woman vs. Man. It is this reason that the characters often switch between their character names and the names of their Shakespearean counterparts. (It sounds more confusing than it actually is) In this case, the two leads are divorced couple ‘Fred Graham’ and ‘Lilli Vanessi’ playing the lead roles of ‘Petruchio’ and ‘Katharine’ respectfully. Despite the problems of the past relationship they find themselves still with feelings toward one another. The problems begin with Fred being his usual cad self, and Lilly being engaged to the leading General of (the recent) World War II. The supporting player ‘Bill Calhoun’ is a gambler that has signed Fred’s name to a Mafia I.O.U, and his girlfriend ‘Lois’ that is growing tired of Bill’s gambling and, in turn, flirts with a list of other men. When two hit men come to collect their debt from the unsuspecting Fred, the story becomes a case of misunderstandings and comedic events.

The cast of Kiss Me, Kate is a large one and the entire ensemble works expertly together to provide a unified talented cast. Many of them are making their 5th Avenue debuts, and are a welcome addition to this Seattle stage. Hopefully, many of them remain a part of the theatre’s stable of actors. Richard Ziman and Allen Galli play the two hit men roped into being cast members. They do an excellent job of providing comic relief throughout the show. Their commentaries are often subtle, despite stereotypical gangster accents, and they do what their characters need to; they provide laughter and a vehicle for the show to continue moving forward.

Allen Galli as Second Man and Richard Ziman as First Man in "Kiss Me, Kate" (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

Allen Galli as Second Man and Richard Ziman as First Man in “Kiss Me, Kate” (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

The two ‘supporting players’ are ‘Bill/Lucentio’ (played by Clyde Alves) and ‘Lois/Bianca’ (played by Robyn Hurder). Mr. Alves is charming as the habitual gambler that signs his bosses name to a Mafia’s I.O.U. His voice is good and his dancing fantastic. In the second act he positively shines as the lead of the song ‘Bianca’, where he professes his love for his girl. Mr. Alves leaps about the stage with a gazelle’s grace, not once letting his voice (or song lyric) waiver.

Ms. Hurder, as the ever-flirtatious Lois/Bianca, absolutely steals this show (with no disrespect to the talents of the lead players). Her performance demonstrates grace and wit, all the while exuding charm, energy and a fabulous voice. She shows the difficulties of playing a ‘dumb blonde’ without allowing her character to become cliché. Her voice possesses a clear, strong talent that knows how to wrap itself around a tender ballad “Why Can’t You Behave”, or belting out the provocative crowd pleaser, “Always True to You in My Fashion”. Ms. Hurder is beyond the Triple Threat of Talents (acting, singing, dancing); she exudes stage presence as well. She is the clay from which Divas are created.

Broadway veteran Ben Davis plays the leading dual roles of Fred/Petruchio. Mr. Davis makes it easy for the audience to become seduced by his charms. His voice is a rich baritone that much like a Siren’s song reaches out inveigling those that hear it. His voice takes full charge while singing comedic songs like “Where is the Life That Late I Led?” but when he sings the reprisal “So In Love” his voice becomes a haunting crooning that brings any audience to a hushed, appreciative silence. Mr. Davis has a natural grace allowing him to move easily across the stage whether in a bravado strut, a dancer’s stride, or while wrestling with his fiancée, the shrew Katharine.

Ben Davis as Fred Graham/Petruchio and the company of "Kiss Me, Kate" at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre (Photo Credit Tracy Martin) on equality365.com

Ben Davis as Fred Graham/Petruchio and the company of “Kiss Me, Kate” at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

The star of the show is Cayman Ilika playing Lilli Vanessi and Katharine, the Shrew. Ms. Cayman takes to this role as if she wrote it. She shows the strength that Lilli asserts to make herself an equal in a man’s world. It is because of this that she finds her own boldness to play Katharine with a wildcat’s fierceness. Ms. Ilika’s voice is strong and covers quite a range that she seems to easily emote. She takes full control of the song and lyrics whether it is comedy, as in the farcical “I Hate Men”, or showing the beauty in the tenderness of “So In Love”. Ms. Ilika is a veteran of the stage and has made a home for herself at the 5th Avenue for very good reason; she’s earned it with her range of talents.

A definite shout-out needs to go to Michele Lynch (choreographer) and Dance Captain Con O’Shea-Creal. The two of them have beautifully crafted a show full of movement. From the crisp and clear tap dancing of “Tom, Dick, or Harry” to the incredibly sensuality of the second act opener, “Too Darn Hot”, these two Masters of Movement show their expertise in gorgeous splendor. They utilize the talents the 5th Avenue offers them and lets this cast sparkle.

The truest and most obvious talent of this show easily goes to the composer/lyricist Cole Porter. His lyrics are as clever (“Just declaim a few lines from ‘Othella’, and they think you’re a helluva fella”), as they are tender (“Strange, dear, but true, dear, When I’m close to you, dear, The stars fill the sky, So in love with you am I”). They can be at times funny (“Of all the types I’ve ever met within our democracy, I hate most the athlete with his manner bold and brassy, He may have hair upon his chest but, sister, so has Lassie. Oh, I hate men!”). But, Mr. Porter is an absolute genius when it comes to the entendre (“If she scratch like a tiger cat, If she fight like a raging boar, I have oft stuck a pig before, I’ve come to wife it wealthily in Padua”). There is no wonder why these songs have become part of the American Classic Songbook; the melodies linger on the ears, and the lyrics in the mind long after the curtain’s fall.

Kiss Me, Kate is a fun musical that is family friendly. Stemming from the Golden Age of American Musicals, the minimal violence and sexual innuendos are subtle enough to not worry parents with explanations. It sends a good message to the younger members of our community showing that women do not need to conform to find love, and that happy endings can be achieved even when one stands up for one’s self – regardless of gender.

Kiss Me, Kate is based on Shakespeare classic The Taming of the Shrew. The musical opened on Broadway December 30, 1948 and ran for over two years. Originally starring Patricia Morison and the (legendary) Alfred Drake, the show won Tony Awards for each of the five categories it was nominated for, including Best Musical (1949) and for Cole Porter as Best Composer/Lyricist. The musical enjoyed a brief revival (eight performances) in 1952. In June 2001 a new production opened on Broadway staring Marin Mazzie (Lilli Vanessi), Brian Stokes Mitchell (Fred Graham), Michael Berresse (Bill Calhoun) and Amy Spanger (Lois Lane). This time the show would be nominated for ten Tony Awards, with five wins including Best Revival (2000) of a Musical, and Best Actor in a Musical (Brian Stokes Mitchell).

You might want to check out other performances at the 5th Avenue Theatre this season by clicking here and next season here.

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About Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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