Kiss Me Kate
Wunderbar for sure! Cabrillo Music Theatre’s revisit to Cole Porter’s fun-filled 1948 musical "Kiss Me Kate" is as close to experiencing the joys of an MGM movie musical extravaganza on a stage as a show can get. Melding chunks of classic Shakespeare into the framework of an old-fashioned romantic stage tuner was a masterstroke for composer-lyricist Porter and co-librettists Sam and Bella Spewack. Renaissance romantic comedy meets Times Square to joyous effect.
It’s tough to beat the gorgeous design elements on display in this production (A. Jeffrey Shoenberg’s costumes, Rand Ryan’s lighting, and the unbilled-apparently rented-sets). Ditto for the musical splendor that’s ensured by the efforts of musical-director/conductor Darryl Archibald and John Todd’s vibrant and inventive choreography.
Yet the lion’s share of credit for the success of this fine rendition is due to Richard Israel’s spirited and polished direction, and the efforts of a terrific cast. The consistently excellent Davis Gaines, whose many memorable credits include playing the lead in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway, in L.A. and San Francisco, and his uproarious turn as serial killer Hannibal Lecter in last year’s L.A. run of "Silence! The Musical," is once again a stellar presence.
As pompous actor Fred Graham, who is playing chauvinistic Petruchio in a touring production of Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew," Gaines is ideally cast. Preening and posing, he evokes plenty of humor as both the offstage leading man and the onstage Shakespearean hero. Gaines’ typically soaring baritone voice continues to be incomparable.
Making a superb sparring partner for him is Victoria Strong as Fred’s ex-wife Lillie, reunited with the actor onstage, playing the Bard’s fiery pre-women’s lib force of nature Katherine-spanking scene and all. A likewise gifted singer-performer, whose countless credits include playing Mother in "Ragtime," Strong shares a marvelous comic chemistry with Gaines, in both their offstage clashes and more tender moments and their boisterous feuding and fussing and eventual romantic chemistry in the "Shrew" sequences.
Gaines and Strong’s duet, the lilting "Wunderbar" is delicious, and Strong’s soprano is also in champion shape in her solos such as "So in Love." Her hell-raising "I Hate Man" is a marvel to behold, eliciting hilarity and awe in equal measure. Gaines eloquently flexes his vocal muscles in a second-act reprise of "So in Love" and "Were Thine That Special Face" and the bouncy title tune. He’s hilarious and forceful in the reflective ’Where is the Life I Led?"
Second-banana roles are formidably filled by Reba Buhr as actress Lois Lane (curiously, having the same name as Superman’s snoopy nemesis from DC Comics), who appears as saucy Bianca in the "Shrew" scenes, and Scott Reardon as Bill Calhoun, her ne’er-do-well offstage boyfriend and onstage romance Lucentio.
In the plum supporting roles of two comic mobsters, simply called "the Two Men," who invade the "Shrew" production, Tom McMahon and Michael Byrne are consistently hilarious, getting their big turn in the spotlight in the choice vaudeville-styled duet, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
This is a welcome revisit to one of Broadway’s most exuberantly entertaining vintage musicals. The group number "Another Op’nin’, Another Show" remains a showstopper in a production that doesn’t reinvent the wheel on a classic, opting instead for a vibrant and bright reaffirmation.
"Kiss Me Kate" runs through Oct. 27 at the Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. For information or tickets, call 800-745-3000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.