Howard Steven Frydman
Hartford Stage Presents “Kiss Me Kate”
“I like this new Hartford Stage Company”! I like it a lot!! I like its new direction under Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak and their new diverse productions. In my humble opinion, it’s like a dark cloud has been lifted and a chorus of heavenly Muses have taken the “Hartford Stage” on as their new home. Yes- a heavenly choir! Why the need for Muses you ask? For years, The Hartford Stage was the main residence to some “heavy duty” drama including all things Tennessee Williams, many a year even dedicated to the playwright – drama at its best-yes – and the Stage echoed loudly his most memorable divas, Blanche DuBois, Maggie the Cat and Amanda Wingfield. But during those TW years, on occasion, like their author and his “ladies” – some of those productions were served with heavy doses of emotionalism, helplessness and heartbreak. I left the theater, knowing I had seen extraordinary drama, but a bit depressed wishing for more of an uplifting experiences and sometimes just searching for a Tums. But all things in good time- Low and behold- In 2012 the Hartford Stage presented the world premiere of ” A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder” and now they present Cole Porter’s most memorable classic “Kiss Me Kate” and next year another world premiere musical- “Anastasia”. Yes- indeed- I truly like this new direction and this new Hartford Stage!
Those delightful Hartford Stage Muses have done their work- this current production of “Kiss Me Kate” is musical theater at its best! From my front center seat, I watch as various foot-lights slowly switch on upon the barren back stage, all the while as a live orchestra steps up the tempo for that most famous of theater mantras – “Another Op’nin, Another Show”- a great way for stage folks and audience to say hello! Truly- the rehearsal is done and it’s time to sit back and watch this play within a play.
Throughout this two hour and thirty minute production- I am in wide eye musical heaven as I enter this boisterous and most titillating world inhabited by a troupe of “strolling players”, partake in their frolicking conflicts on and off-stage and delight in their musical tale version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It is here we meet actors, Fred Graham, ( portrayed by the dauntless Mike McGowan) the show’s director, producer, and star, and his leading lady, ex-wife Lilli Vanessi,( the talented and dazzling Anastasia Barzee) who find themselves now performing opposite each other in the roles of Petruchio and Katherine – the Shrew! Animosity charged, the pair begin an all-out emotional hottzie-tottsie war mid-performance that threatens to halt production- keep a wide eye open for a wayward string of sausages and of course the most famous “spanking” as only the ‘ol bard could write and Petruchio could deliver- ouch! In the meantime, Lois Lane (no- not that one from the Daily Planet) who plays Bianca ( portrayed by the sizzling red haired Megan Sikora) assists in thwarting a pair of 50’s style gangsters who are looking to collect on a gambling debt owed by fellow actor and wayward boyfriend, Bill Calhoun ( portrayed by Tyler Hanes) playing Lucentio who has lost again in a “floating” crap game. Hmmm? Two floating crap games in Connecticut at the same time-? Did someone say- “Guys and Dolls at the Goodspeed”-?
Technicolored sets and costumes are a wonder to behold, superb scene stealing staged choreography by Peggy Hickey, slapstick madness by an all-star singing/dancing cast belting out such Cole Porter notables including- “We Open In Venice”, “Two Darn Hot”, the bewitchingly enchanting – “So In Love”, “Where Is The Life That Late I Led” and the comedic, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. And now the performers- they are extraordinary!- especially the sprightly and oh so multi-talented Anastasia Barzee (KATE). Her vocal styling is expressive and emotional. I had the delightful opportunity to meet with her after the performance, we talked about everything from her work in the Tony Award winning production of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 as Lady Mortimer opposite Kevin Kline, her evenings of songs by Burt Bacharach, to where to find a great dining spot in CT- I suggested Carbone’s Kitchen in Bloomfield. I am honored to now call Anastasia Barzee my new friend. I also want to single out both Joel Blum and Brendan Averett as our two wayward “gangsters” they are a comedic sensation-bless you both for my tears of joy! And of course I want to single out my old friend Robert Hannon Davis, Professor at the Hartt School Theatre Division at the University of Hartford, who plays the role of “Ralph” the Stage Manager. Please note, most of the cast will be heading out to the Old Globe Theater in San Diego to continue on with this ultra fab production of Kiss Me Kate- so if by chance you have missed your opportunity here in Ct, here is your excuse to see a most exhilarating cast production of “Kiss Me Kate”- one more time!! Enjoy
Kiss Me Kate will run May 14th to June 14th. Curtain times are Tue, Wed, Thu, Sun at 7:30 p.m.—Fri, Sat at 8 p.m.—Sat, Sun at 2 p.m.
Wed matinee at 2 p.m. on June 3 only. Weekly schedules vary. For tickets, please call the Hartford Stage box office at 860-527-5151 or visit http://www.hartfordstage.org.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV-TV5 – his reviews can be read throughout New England.