AISLE SAY Berkshires & Environs


Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Directed by Joe Calarco
Starring Elizabeth Stanley and Paul Anthony Stewart

Barrington Stage Company/Boyd-Quinson Mainstage until July 12

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg

Kiss Me, Kate, a granddaddy of the Golden Age of Musical Theatre, is this seasonís major musical at Barrington Stage, in Pittsfield MA. The score, written late in Cole Porterís career is, along with Anything Goes, a goldmine of melodies, toe-tappy energy and masterful lyrics. To be fair to the book writers, Bella and Samuel Spewack, the show is the score.  The script that holds the songs and dances together is strong on structure, brilliant in its use of the two gangsters who walk off with what is possibly the best comedy number ever conceived for the stage, and barely serviceable in the character development department.

This production, directed by Joe Calarco, finds its greatest strength in its choreography (Lorin Latarro), though even the athleticism of the dances rarely emerges from the story or the emotional situations that motivate dance at all. The execution is impressive and the cohesion of the ensemble is first-rate. The staging of musical numbers, however, is awkward and often downright banal. Porterís songs, even the snappy ones, donít require much movement.  In this production, Wunderbar is sung and staged at close to breakneck speed while the two actors race about the stage trying far too hard to be funny. So in Love, a ballad written to demonstrate the charactersí emotional truth, is little more than a throwaway, as staged for Elizabeth Stanley, but is allowed its full weight when reprised late in the second act by Paul Anthony Stewart. The reason it works so well in the reprise is that Stewart just sits and sings. The melody and the lyrics, when well delivered as they are here, are just fine without physical decoration.

In fact, the musical staging throughout is what reduces this production to a standard far below Barrington Stageís usual level. Traditional musical theatre employs song and dance to elevate the emotional temperature of the story and to stimulate the senses. But here the songs begin and the energy level spikes without preparation and, worse, without an underpinning to make it work as anything more than frantic energy.

We Open in Venice is a song that uses repetition to make its point about the tedium of theatrical touring. The staging here is literal and hits the audience over the head as the actors fall to their knees showing us their exhaustion. Was Porter not commenting on the fact that, hard as a touring artistís life might be, the show must go on, and does? Every time. I Hate Men succeeds only in making Ms. Stanley growl and hiss, crawl and scratch her way through one of her solo numbers. It doesnít show her off to great advantage, though she does the song with gusto. Sheís a very good sport. The second actís Where is the Life that Late I Led? doesnít improve by having several penis references, flaccid or otherwise. A song written with so many verses benefits from allowing the words to work their magic on an audience. Working too hard to make actions fit the words is punitive. The same applies to Always True to You in My Fashion, a patter song ably performed by Mara Davi, but compromised by relentless action. In Porterís work, the action is the words and both are supported by the music. No one understood that better than Porter, himself. What a shame that this Kiss Me, Kate couldnít let the material settle long enough for us to be allowed into the world that the composer knew so well. Intsead, we have been rattled into submission one song after the other without distinguishing one gem from the other.

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