The Concord Journal
Performances put the magic in Players' 'Kiss me, Kate'
By Parkman Howe  

Special to the Journal

The Concord Players opened their 1988-89 season at 51 Walden Street on Nov. 11 with a solid production of Cole Porter's 1948 "Kiss Me, Kate."

The play combines the offstage romance of Fred and Lilli, two divorced stage actors with the on stage Shakespearian comedy "The Taming of the Shrew." As petrucio tames the shrewish Katherine in iambic pentameter, so Fred wins back the love of a headstrong Lilli in rhyming couplets set to music.

Both plays are shot through with some of the most memorable of Cole Porter's lyrics and melodies, written at a time in Porter's life when most critics and producers had announced the end of the age of Cole Porter.

The talented orchestra led by William Toland seemed under-rehearsed for opening night. Subsequent performances should iron out the few rough spots and allow Porter's music to take flight, as it did most of the opening night.

Most of the sets and backdrops were workman-like, but conventional. They lack the daring and flare of previous settings by the Players. Patricia Butcher's Renaissance costumes for "The Taming of the Shrew" were sumptuous and elegant in the best Concord Players tradition.

Curtis Fennel gave an outstanding performance in the duel roles of Fred and Petrucio. His rich tenor filled the theatre with such Porter standards as "Wunderbar" and "I've Come To Wive it Wealthily in Padua." His confidence and energy carried the show. His witty handling of a belt which refused to stay buckled showed his poise and resources as an actor.

Pamela Schweppe, who did such a fine job in last year's "Tomfoolery," returns with entergy and panache in the twin roles of Lilli and Katherine. While she sang all her numbers well, her rendition of "So in Love Am I" was particularly fine.

All of the supporting cast had moments in the lime light. Deborah Parks kicked off the show in fine style with her enthusiastic rendition of "Another Op'nin, Another SAhow." Kate Beattie as Lois/Bianca brought energy to her dancing and acting.

David Gilfor sang both "Why Can't You Behave" and "Bianca" with a charmingly light soulfulness. Jon Canada heated up act two with his excellent singing and dancing in "Too Darn Hot."

The chorus of Ron Geraneo and Keith Daniel never missed a beat; Keith Daniel's clear tenor was a standout.

Dave Edgar and Peter Davis played the two gangsters with elegant understatement. They stopped the show with their delicate choreography and diction in "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" -- very nearly worth the price of admission.

Ray Johnson did a respectable job as the lightweight socialite Harrison Howell, friend of presidents and the 15-minute snooze.

Mary-Tritton Venable's choreography in "Another Op'nin', Another Show," "Too Darn Hot," and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" showed the energy and wit of which she is capable. Other numbers in the show needed the same arch treatment to make them memorable.

"Kiss Me, Kate" is a period piece. It builds its themes and jokes on cliches of theater life. Most glaringly, it aasks us to laugh at the comic correction of a headstrong woman becoming an obedient wife. Many working women, facing lower wages and less opportunity for promotion, will find the play not so much comic as ironic.

Over the time-bound assumptions of the play, however, Cole Porter's melodies and lyrics hover in a kind of magical suspension, at times wholly breaking away from the play altogether. They rarely advance the plot, as most songs in contemporary musicals do. Still, Porter has the power to delight us no matter what period we find ourselves in.