Kiss Me Kate reviews

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KISSES FOR 'KATE'!

By DONALD LYONS, New York Post Online

DON'T be late, or I'll you berate, for it's wildly great, this "Kiss Me, Kate."I'll stop. Such is the wit and bounce of Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate," now enjoying its first Broadway revival since its opening in December 1948, that it can rouse the rhymester even in clods.

This is the last Broadway revival of a classic Golden Age musical in the millennium, and it's a gem, a well-thought-out and sexily stylized production that belongs with the wonderful 1990s revivals of "Carousel," "The King and I" and "Guys and Dolls."

Director Michael Blakemore and choreographer Kathleen Marshall have given this "Kiss Me, Kate" a look, a feel, a clarity, an energy that make the work cohere (well, almost) and carry us blithely across the dull spots (and there are some). The two act-opening ensemble numbers -- "Another Op'nin' Another Show" and "Too Darn Hot" -- are vitally important in establishing the show as a piece about the community of theater. All the busyness and exasperation and hard work of show life is in the slow-then-fast "Another Op'nin'" as stagehands and wardrobe people go about their jobs.

"Too Darn Hot," set in alley behind the theater, is Marshall's dance tour de force. We feel the heat of a Baltimore summer day in 1948; we feel, too, the jazz-accented high spirits of the company, led here by the spirited Stanley Wayne Mathis.

We're backstage at a musical version of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew," as "conceived, delivered and directed -- also starring -- Fredric Graham," a major ham. Graham's ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi is back from Hollywood to play Kate, and emotions backstage come to mirror those onstage.

"Kiss Me, Kate" can't kick in, of course, without stars who have larger-than-life qualities.

As Fredric/Petruchio, Brian Stokes Mitchell, who was the original Coalhouse Walker in "Ragtime," reveals an immensely appealing authority, charm and niceness. His Fredric is egotistical without arrogance and lovelorn without wimpiness.

Mitchell has a rich voice and knows just how to bend it to Porter's phrases. His killer number is "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" and he puts it across with impudent wit and table-hopping brio.

As Lilli/Katharine, Marin Mazzie has to fume and rage a lot, but she tempers the role with warmth of personality and loveliness of voice. Her signature song is "I Hate Men," which she delivers with unusual vivacity and vigor.

Don Sebesky's subtly understated orchestrations, Martin Pakledinaz's riotously busy costumes, and Robin Wagner's evocatively backstage-y sets are all just right.

Porter and book writers Samuel and Bella Spewack wrote this show in the heyday of the serious book show, but "Kiss Me, Kate" clings stubbornly to the old revue format.

The ingenues exist only for two great numbers. Pretty Amy Spanger, as Lois/Bianca, goes to town with the cynical show-stopper "Always True to You (In My Fashion)." Even better is Michael Berresse, who, as Bill/Lucentio, wows us with an elegantly romantic and daringly acrobatic "Bianca."

These two superb songs tell us all we need to know about the characters. A pair of learned gangsters played by Lee Wilkof and Michael Mulheren slay us with the irresistible "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." As he threatens the audience, Mulheren is particularly funny.

The bad news: Much of the old book is still tedious and dumb; while the new book additions, reportedly by John Guare and involving a Neanderthal general constructed to get cheap liberal laughs, are even dumber. They're also completely unPorterish.

It's not so bad as the feminist revamp of "Annie Get Your Gun," but in the words of Cole Porter, which might have been addressed to improvers, "Why Can't You Behave?"

At the Martin Beck Theatre, 302 W. 45 St.; call (212) 239-6200.

 

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