By Barry Reszel
There’s a conundrum built into contemplating an evening with Kiss Me Kate, the 1948 Broadway musical comedy that won the first-ever Tony Award for best musical and ultimately ran more than 1,000 performances.
The original’s argument for wife-slapping amid its gaggle of misogynistic stereotypes is tempered by the slapstick buffoonery that, believe it or not, makes the show hilariously charming. Sam and Bella Spewack’s book is an opus of theatrical love—the story of bombastic ex-spouses sharing the stage in a production of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew while continuing their bickering backstage. And just as delightful is the terrific Cole Porter score and lyrics that frequently turn into jaw-dropping dance numbers. (A full synopsis and production history may be found here).
Marriott Theatre’s holiday iteration, deftly directed by area-favorite stage star Johanna McKenzie Miller and presumably using some of the “feminist updates” made for Broadway’s 2019 revival, eases feelings of conflict. This allows patrons to settle in and thoroughly enjoy the bevvy of triple-threat talent assembled on the Lincolnshire stage. “I feel so grateful, and uniquely suited to direct this production,” said McKenzie Miller. “Rather than changing what was originally on the page, I hope to make sense of it in the present day and give women the voice they need to tell their stories.”
Helming that charge is Chicagoland favorite and Kiss Me Kate lead Susan Moniz as “Lilli Vanessi/Kate.” She does everything well—from strong and tender vocals to nuanced acting ranging from perfect comedic timing to rage. Her late show turning away from another possibly failed marriage to yet another misogynist and the song “I’m Ashamed That People Are So Simple” (changed from the original “…Women Are So Simple”) are poignant reminders that this is certainly not one’s grandparents’ Kiss Me….
It’s these types of subtleties that led Jeff Award-winning actress and Mackenzie Miller pal Cory Goodrich to write, “This woman talks about change in our business, and she does it. She talks about inclusivity and she casts that way. She talks about feminism and hearing women’s voices and changing the narrative from a man’s lens to a woman’s and SHE DOES IT. It’s exciting and necessary and I am so proud to call her friend.”
Sharing lead chores with Moniz is one of this reviewer’s most favored local performers, Larry Adams, as “Fred Graham/Petruchio.” His booming voice matches the bombastic demeanor of both his characters, and his cadence with the required Shakespearean script is damn impressive.
Alexandra Palkovic as “Lois Lane/Bianca”; Daniel May as “Bill Calhoun/Lucenito”; Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as “Paul; and Lillian Castillo and Shea Coffman as “Gun Woman” and “Gun Man” head the fabulous supporting cast that features Terry Hamilton, Bret Tuomi, Richard Strimer and Iris Lieberman and includes the singing and dancing talents of Alejandro Fonseca, Kayla Jenerson, Amanda Compton LoPresti, Maggie Malaney, Kevin Nietzel, Adam Rogers, Dance Captain Laura Savage, Allison Sill, Kyra Sorce, Alex Joseph Stewart, and Trevor Vanderzee.
This reviewer’s music and dance highlights include the all-cast opening, “Another Op’nin, Another Show;” the lovely Moniz/Adams duet, “Wunderbar;” Moniz’s comedic “I Hate Men;” the Butler-Duplessis-led “Too Darn Hot;” May’s “Bianca;” and Castillo and Coffman’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Musical direction for this production is led by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson with superb choreography by Alex Sanchez. Interesting set design comes courtesy of Scott Davis. Splendid costuming is from the talents of Theresa Ham with perfect wig design from Miguel A. Armstrong.
So purchase tickets; no longer wait.
Kiss Me Kate runs through January 16th, 2022 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire. For tickets or more information, please click here.