Go to see Bill (Luke Hawkins) tap dance, a tiny surprise in the second act. Or to watch the antics of the gangsters (Bob and Jim Walton) as they sing and hoof their way through Brush Up Your Shakespeare until an actual hook pokes out from behind the curtain to usher them offstage. Lilli's (Naomi Louisa O'Connell) voice is divine, the dancers, including Lois as Bianca (Katherine McLaughlin), are energetic, and the set is clever. Nothing ever dims the excitement of live music, conducted by Louis Burkot, who even appears as a character in the play, briefly and without leaving his spot in the orchestra pit.
It's a play within a play, said to be based upon the lives of theater giants of yore, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. The principal characters, divorced but oh-so-in-love through their continued sparring, are Lilli and Fred (George Dvorsky), working together with a troupe of fellow actors in a production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Their repartee and emotional baggage follow them from their adjacent dressing rooms to the stage and back. Lilli is poised to run off with her General (Jeffrey Grover) and abandon life in the theater for another as a political spouse. No spoilers here, but you can imagine how this all settles out by the final scene
Its views of women are cringe-worthy. Tony-award winning and produced on Broadway in 1948, Kiss Me Kate has that worn Eisenhower-era feel, where banter between a man and a woman was amusing but the woman always knew, or learned, her place. Where men were free to physically "discipline" their wives. To be fair, what else would a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Shrew look like?
So you are left to occasionally shield your eyes and ears, and wait for the moments--and there are many--when Cole Porter's melodies wash over you. His wordplay brings smiles and at times some guffaws from the audience. Particularly noteworthy are Fred and Lilli's duets, Wunderbar and So In Love. Lilli spits out I Hate Men with convincing ferocity, and Fred delights with a number in the second act, Where Is The Life That Late I Led?
Bill (Luke Hawkins) in tap shoes, about to hit the floor.
The play could and did spark interesting post-show discussion in the Lebanon Opera House lobby and it spilled into the street. Some sloughed off the treatment of women by labeling it as outdated. Does not "taming" of perceived "shrews" go on in modern-day politics, for one? Recall Trump referring to Clinton as a "nasty woman" during the presidential debates, Elizabeth Warren being silenced when "nevertheless, she persisted." Both, by the way, have become such a part of our popular culture that that are now T-shirt slogans.
Maybe not so outdated after all. Don't kiss him, Kate.
Opera North's 35th anniversary season continues with additional performances of Kiss Me Kate, La belle Hélène, and Madama Butterfly. See Opera North's website for information and tickets.
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge