CENTERVILLE — Rodgers Memorial Theatre brings a little piece of Broadway to Davis County in their latest production of Kiss Me, Kate. While director Jeremy Flygare shows clear comedic instinct, the finished product boasts more of an enjoyable musical revue than the tight production it could have been. Definitely still a worthwhile evening at the theatre; you will be humming a few notes well after the curtains are drawn and the lights are out.
Cole Porter’s sophisticated melodies and witty lyrics make it easy to see why this show won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949. The show presents a Broadway-bound musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It stars our egotistical leading man, Fred Graham (played by Todd Wente), his diva ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (played by Michelle Blake), and a pair of dressing room lovers: Lois Lane (Taryn R. Tolman) and Bill Calhoun (Jeremy Egan). Throw in a couple of gangsters (Gordon S. Jones and Ken Fowler) and the United States Army and you can imagine the delightful scenes that erupt when the tension backstage starts to leak into the musical happening onstage.
The key to this show is how the director manages the two storylines—the backstage story and the onstage performance. No matter how amusing the Shakespeare-singing gangsters may be, or how toe-tapping it gets after the brief intermission, the overall quality and unity of the production is determined by how clearly the director can define the world of the play. That’s where the key comedy comes—from the world of the play.
On a whole, I enjoyed the show. The singing—when not masked by the orchestration—was delightful and engaging. The acknowledgement of the audience during numbers such as “We Open In Venice” and “I’ve Come To Wife It Wealthily In Padua” were very appropriate, but I was confused when that same level of interaction occurred backstage with “Too Darn Hot” and “Always True To You In My Fashion.” The sections of dialogue were generally one level and lacked those contrasts that make the script so much fun to follow.
The evening was not void of moments of polish. Wente’s performance of “So In Love” was very grounded. Those moments of acting are what really carry great productions. While the execution of the large dance numbers lacked a little in crispness and punch, the ensemble’s acting and singing were very strong (some of the best acting of the night came from the smaller roles). Taryn Tolman’s vocals and dancing proved to me the quality of choreography (Liz Smith) and music direction (Trevor Jerome) brought to the show. I look forward to the entire cast bringing the same level of execution that she and her partner, Jeremy Egan, brought to Smith’s steps.
I’m always impressed at how cleverly the designers at Rodgers use their space to accomplish so much. The swiveling walls upstage were very effective and the use of actors to scroll through the Italian countryside during “We Open In Venice” definitely turned a smile. The costuming was well done and appropriate throughout—although I did wish it had played a little with the “modernized” adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Regarding the pre-recorded orchestration, I didn’t miss live instruments.
Those highlights are what make the evening worthwhile and once the scenes become more grounded—and a few rules of the world explored—this string of disconnected, but highly entertaining musical numbers, will be grow to be a fantastic production of a musical theatre standard.
When I go to Rodgers Memorial I don’t expect to see Broadway, and that’s okay. Theatres like Rodgers are the bread and butter of Utah theatre—families and neighbors working to bring a little piece of Broadway to their hometowns. I’m thrilled to see what’s up next for this Davis County staple as they prepare to move into their new home next year. So, while this production of Kiss Me, Kate wasn’t quite as polished as I would have hoped, it was certainly an enjoyable evening and left me humming as I headed home.
NOTE: Kiss Me, Kate is double cast. UTBA attended the Tuesday night performance.