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B'way Stars Share a 'Kiss'
For Mitchell and Mazzie,
it's 'Another Op'nin, Another Show'

By PATRICIA O'HAIRE
Daily News Staff Writer

hey bicker more than they buss in "Kiss Me, Kate," the big Broadway revival of the 1948 Cole Porter musical that arrives at the Martin Beck on Thursday.

But offstage, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie act more like a pair of old friends who have a long history of giggling together — which they are.

The two starred in "Ragtime" in 1998, and were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress Tonys that year. They lost to Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson of "Cabaret." Now, the buzz is already strong that Mitchell and Mazzie may walk away with Tonys sometime in June.

 

Marin Mazzie

Right now, that's of secondary importance. What's No. 1 in their minds is cooking up a "Kiss Me, Kate" that will feed a musically starved New York for a long, long time.

This is the first time the storied tale, loosely based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," has been revived on Broadway.

It is also one of the few shows in Broadway history, where the producers have cast a black man in a role traditionally played by a white. Refreshingly, Mitchell was chosen simply on the basis of his talents.

"I've known [Mitchell] now for 10 years and I think he is one actor with total command of the stage," says producer Roger Berlind. "He's great-looking, has great presence. We haven't had anyone like that in years. During auditions, he was clearly the guy all of us thought was right for the role."

Was the fact that he is black a factor?

"It was absolutely a nonconsideration," Berlind insists. "Anyone who comes into that theater with an attitude about black man-white woman will lose it in 10 minutes. He is simply the best man for the role. He and Marin are wonderfully supportive together onstage — and it shows."

Tunes Are 'Wunderbar'

 

Brian Stokes Mitchell

The original production of "Kiss Me, Kate" starred Alfred Drake in the dual role of Fred/Petruchio and Patricia Morrison as Lili/Kate. It ran for 2 1/2 years and became the first musical to win a Tony. Its songs have become classics, among them "So in Love," "Always True to You (in My Fashion)," "Wunderbar," "Too Darn Hot" and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" One comedy number, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," cleverly interpolates about a dozen titles from the Bard's plays into its lyric.

The show has a wonderful but complicated story about a traveling troupe of actors doing one-night stands of the Bard's "Shrew." Part of the intricate plot involves the acidity of the two leads — a pair of legit actors who were once married to each other. As you might expect, their relationship onstage is acerbic — but that only adds to the fun. She's made a couple of movies since they parted company that have been less than successful. He's chosen to stay on the stage — with equal success.

There are subplots, including one involving a pair of extremely funny gangsters determined to settle a gambling debt, and a budding romance between a pair of dancers. But as with all Cole Porter shows, everything comes out merrily by the finale.

"Most of this show is between the lines," explains Mazzie while sipping from a bottle of water. "And if you don't play it that way, you miss the point of it all. You have to care about the two characters from the beginning — and believe that they, indeed, were meant for each other."

Mitchell agrees. "She has an awful temper, and he's an egomaniac. They're like a cat and a dog circling each other, waiting to pounce. You have to want to see them get together, make peace — even though you can enjoy the swipes they take at each other.

Like the characters each portrays, they're quite a contrast away from the footlights. She's tall, with long, blond hair and fair complexion; he's taller, handsomely dark and sports a Vandyke beard.

Mazzie is from Rockford, Ill., and attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo to study theater. Her first job was in a musical at a dinner theater in her hometown. ("There's really a lot of theater in Rockford," she says a bit defensively. "No," Mitchell teases her. "Just a lot of beef.")

"My background is comedy, mostly musical comedy," she explains, having worked in such shows here as "Big River," "Into the Woods," "Passion" and "The World Goes 'Round" before signing up for "Ragtime."

Mitchell, slim, sinewy and sexy, is of mixed heritage (predominantly black, his background includes a German great-grandmother and some Scottish and American Indian). Born in Seattle on Halloween, the youngest of a family of four, he grew up on Guam and in the Philippines, where his father, an electrical engineer employed by the Navy, worked. The family also lived in San Diego, where he picked up most of his training with the Twelfth Night Rep.

On a fluke, the actor sent a photo and resume to the casting people for the TV series, "Roots," and was given a role in the show. From there, he did "Trapper John, M.D ." He came to Broadway in the short-lived musical "Mail," took over for Gregory Hines in "Jelly's Last Jam," and subbed for Anthony Crivello in "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

Now both he and Mazzie appear to have struck pay dirt on the Great White Way for the second year in a row.

And just think, all they had to do was brush up their Shakespeare

 

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