Divas, drama and dance: ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ puts comedic twist on Shakespeare’s ‘Shrew’
by Benjamin Nunnally
Special to The Star
Feb 16, 2014 | 8426 views |  0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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“Kiss Me, Kate,” Cole Porter’s Tony Award-winning musical, might seem a little crazy on paper — it’s a musical in which the actors play actors that are acting in a musical — but give the upcoming Jacksonville State University production of the 1948 hit a chance, and it’s certain to take you for a ride.

“You don’t want to see the seams and lose the suspension of disbelief,” said Dr. Michael Boynton, JSU drama professor and director of the play. To keep up the pace, he decided to forgo “blackouts” — brief intermissions where the set changes and actors get into position for the next scene — throughout the play.

“It should be one big roller coaster ride from top to bottom,” he said.

Boynton is pulling out all the stops to emphasize big musical numbers, bright lights and the theatricality and silliness of the dramatic divas out to put on a show. “Kiss Me, Kate” is so intrinsically about theater life, it makes Boynton’s job easy.

The story takes place during a troubled musical production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Prima-donna director and actor Fred Graham plays Petruchio, with his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi starring as Katherine on the show’s opening night.

“Both of them really do love each other but they're both melodramatic divas,” explained Boynton. “If they could ever shut up and be honest with each other, they’d realize it.”

Lilli receives flowers from Fred just before the show and realizes she still loves him, and the play goes on with nary a hitch. That is, until Lilli reads the card that came with the flowers and discovers they were meant for Lois Lane, Fred’s would-be mistress and the actress playing Bianca in the musical.

When gangsters keep her from quitting the play — you’re really going to have to see this one to believe it — Lilli makes it her mission to disrupt the play, blurring the lines between musical and mutiny.

The actors break character, show each other up, flirt, fight and carry on. It comes so naturally that when something does go wrong, the audience will wonder whether it’s on purpose.

“When are you the character playing that moment and when are you the actor messing that up?” posed Boynton. “Part of why we go to live theater is because something could go wrong with a live show, and instead of shying away from it, why not embrace it?”

The first song of the play within the play, “We Open in Venice,” is three or four minutes of joyous, boring song, repeating a few lines over and over again to introduce the setting. Most productions of “Kiss Me, Kate” play the tune straight, with big, earnest smiles. In the JSU production, part of the scenery breaks during the song, and the actors repeat the mindless ditty, awkwardly covering a repair job before the play can continue. It’s a classy move that subtly cuts out superfluous material and helps make every second count. If the show’s ego is a little bruised in the process, it’s all for the sake of a good laugh, and a good time.

“It’s a parody of sorts,” said Boynton. “We have a good laugh with Shakespeare and musical theater, get to poke fun at them, but we get to learn to love them, too.”

Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. Contact him at bnunnallystar@gmail.com.

IF YOU GO…
WHAT: JSU Drama presents “Kiss Me, Kate”
WHEN: Feb. 20-March 2, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center, Jacksonville
TICKETS: $15 for adults, $12 for senior citizens, $10 for students and military. Call 256-782-5648 or visit www.jsu.edu/drama.com for more information.
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