KISS ME, KATE! + Longwood Gardens = A Great Match!

by Kelly Thunstrom

Debra Arnold in The Brandywiners' production of KISS ME, KATE! running in Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA through Aug 6.

An evening that wasn’t too hot or humid, beautifully landscaped gardens, and a gorgeous backdrop…what more could the Brandywiners want for their production of KISS ME, KATE!?  The combination of this classic Cole Porter musical, directed by Henry Porreca (stage) and Clint Williams (music), and the Chester County landmark made for a wonderful night.

The scene is set in Baltimore for this play within a play, as the actors prepare for their version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Little do they know that their off-stage antics and foibles will eventually catch up to them on-stage.  We begin with Another Op’nin’, Another Show, where the audience gets to see the entire cast perform for the first time.  This opening number is supposed to set the musical rolling, letting the audience know what they are in for (Think the opening numbers of RENT, GUYS AND DOLLS, and CABARET.).  Unfortunately, this does not have the “pizzazz” that a number of this caliber should have (especially a Cole Porter song).  There are too many lulls with the cast just standing around.  I did like how the Brandywiners used Longwood Gardens to set up their “stage” in the gardens.

Fortunately, things get much better from here.  Lois/Bianca (Erin Cates) plays the ingenue role well.  Cates is effervescent, enthusiastic, and plays Lois like she wants her “name in lights” everywhere she can get it.  She is a Broadway belter, especially shown in Tom, Dick, or Harry and Always True to You in My Fashion.  As they prepare for the show, Fred/Petruchio (Bob Miller) and Lilli/Katharine (Debra Arnold) are very funny as they trade barbs in their dressing room.  The audience learns that this is the anniversary of their divorce; however, it seems like they are falling back in love with each other in the beautiful Wunderbar.  This song truly shows off the voice talents of Miller and Arnold. 

Things quickly go amiss when Katharine discovers something about Fred offstage as the play is being performed.  When Lilli brings her anger onstage into her “Kate”, it is very funny.  However, nothing is funnier than when Fred and Lilli go backstage to yell at each other.  Watching the ensemble try to cover for the much despised “lull in the action” is hysterical.  Beginning with this act, we are treated to the talented costume design of Tina Productions, Inc..  The ensemble’s costumes, especially during Cantiamo D’Amore and the wedding scene at the end of the musical, are magnificent.

Act Two begins with the extremely energetic Too Darn Hot.  This number is done very well, which definitely makes up for Another Op’nin’, Another Show.  It is colorful, sizzling, has great lighting, and wonderful choreography (by Tamara Paulino).  In this act, Bill/Lucentio (Art Bookout) gets his chance to shine with Bianca.  He pulls it off nicely.  KISS ME, KATE! is only as good as its four leads, and the Brandywiners have four winners here!

If you are looking for a great way to spend a night, there is nothing better than a Cole Porter musical and Longwood Gardens.

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Directed by Henry Porreca
July 28 – August 6, 2011
The Brandywiners
at Longwood Gardens Open Air Theater
Kennett Square, PA

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