Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54
by Mo Brady
At a preview of the new Broadway production of Kiss Me, Kate, the audience at Broadway’s Studio 54 leapt to its feet at the culmination of the Act II opener, “Too Darn Hot.” Sure, they had only sat down after intermission less than ten minutes earlier, but in that time, they’d been wowed by the virtuosic company of Kiss Me, Kate.
As staged by choreographer Warren Carlyle, “Too Darn Hot” is a showcase for the stamina of his athletic ensemble. Carlyle stages with finesse, never making a moment more than it needs to be to entertain. Thanks to dance arrangements by David Chase, the familiar song builds in unexpected ways, allowing the staging to simmer at a steady boiling point for minutes on end.
The ensemble of Kiss Me, Kate is stacked with Broadway veterans, each expertly aware of how to imbue non-speaking roles with personality. In both fully staged dances and short transitions climbing backstage catwalks, the ensemble breathes life into their performances and provide a fully-realized world for the principal roles to embody. This 14-member ensemble is truly working at the top of their game.
One of the joys of watching a gargantuan production number such as “Too Darn Hot” is that there is time to watch every single actor onstage at some point in the song. Watching the company tackle this mammoth beast of a song, I found myself being swept away in a seductive flirtation by Tanya Haglund, a coy cross by Sherisse Springer and a no-holds barred thwack of the arms by Preston Truman Boyd.
When performing the show-within-a-show, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the ensemble trades its jazz-infused movement for a more classical vocabulary. In this choreographic style, the company also shines, particularly in Act I’s penultimate number, “Cantiamo D’Amore.” In this incredible feast of movement, six of the company’s dancers balance their bodies in and on the rims of open wine barrels. Haley Fish, Erica Mansfield and Christine Cornish Smith demonstrate extreme poise and flexibility, while Will Burton, Sam Strasfeld and Travis Waldschmidt securely guide them with strength and agility. Again, the movements perfectly suit the moment, never being more than necessary while still entertaining and exciting the audience.
One of the show’s flashiest choreographic spectacles also lives in the world of The Taming of the Shrew. “Tom, Dick or Harry” is a showcase for a spitfire Stephanie Styles accompanied by three athletic male suitors: Lucentio (Corbin Bleu), Gremio (Will Burton) and Hortensio (Rick Faugno). Burton, who most recently played artist-turned-polka contest winner Ambrose Kemper in Hello, Dolly!, shines in the number, gliding across the stage with a technical agility rarely seen on a Broadway stage. He is followed by Faugno, whose soaring vocals and kinetic movements provide equally awe-inspiring moments.
While Kiss Me, Kate marks Bleu’s fourth outing on the Rialto, this performance as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio solidifies him one of Broadway’s most talented triple threats. In addition to his expertly executed choreography in “Tom, Dick or Harry,” his tap dancing solo in “Too Darn Hot” stands out as another of the production’s many highlights.
Kiss Me, Kate is undeniably a classic musical theatre show. From its extended musical interludes to its authentic Shakespearean dialogue, the show moves at a slow but steady pace throughout. Yet, this production never feels like it has overstayed its welcome. In fact, between Kelli O’Hara’s unparalleled vocals and the ensemble’s remarkable audacity of movement, I lost track of the many times I audibly gasped during the show.