There have been many adaptations and reimaginings over the years of Shakespeare’s work — some more successful than others — and “Kiss Me, Kate” (both a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew” and a reimagining of Shakespeare’s story) is one of the most well-known. Premiering on Broadway in 1948, it was the first winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Although surely daunting — it is a huge show — presenting it is an inspired choice on Barrington Stage’s part, especially for the summer season.
The story: Fred Graham (Paul Anthony Stewart) is putting on a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew” in Baltimore, of all places, and has brought his ex-wife Lili (Elizabeth Stanley) on board, hoping her Hollywood fame will bring him the audience volume he needs. However, there’s a reason she’s his ex-wife, and the two of them butt heads from the very beginning. A misunderstanding with some gangsters adds both immediacy and comedy, and both Lili and Fred begin to realize that maybe their feelings for one another run deeper than they’d previously thought.
There are so many things done right with the show it’s impossible to know where to start. The choreography stands out as probably the most impressive — the dancing was so amazing it drew gasps from the audience, especially in such numbers as “Too Darn Hot” and “Tom, Dick or Harry.”
’Kiss Me, Kate’
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 12
HOW MUCH: $67-$15
MORE INFO: 413-236-8888, barringtonstageco.org
Perhaps the most impressive of the dancers was Tyler Hanes, who played Bill (and Lucento in the play within the play). It was almost impossible to keep your eyes off him when he was onstage dancing. He was utterly flawless.
The leads had the chemistry to make the romance truly pop, as well as bring out the comedy in the piece. Stewart and Stanley played off each other perfectly, and Stanley truly shone. Playing both Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew” and Lili in the show, both strong women needing appreciation and understanding from a partner, is no easy task. It’s far too easy to dislike a character like this, and far too easy for the actress to choose not to show her character arc and just metamorphose at the end without anything leading to that change. Stanley brought us with her on her journey, and had the audience on her side throughout (especially in an inspired “I Hate Men,” which had audience members laughing and clapping throughout.)
It was a joy to see the happiness on the faces of the audience members around me as we were leaving the theater. I didn’t see a single person leaving without a huge grin on their face, talking excitedly about what they’d seen.
This is a perfect show to kick off the summer season — big, flashy, funny, romantic and beautifully cast, choreographed, and directed.