It’s a case of life imitating art imitating life in “Kiss Me, Kate,” the rollicking old Cole Porter musical that Hale Center Theater Orem is currently breathing fresh life into.
This is a good choice for Hale: a show most people know a little something about(so they’re not afraid to see it), but that isn’t performed very often (so they’re not sick of it).
Directed by Syd Riggs, the show is set backstage at a production of Shakespeare’s”The Taming of the Shrew.” The leading man, Fred (Richard Losee) is playing opposite his ex-wife, Lilli (M’Lisa Hansen). She’s now seeing a wealthy politician named Harrison (Stevan Davis), and Fred’s got his eye on fellow cast member Lois (Cindy Winkel).
Fred and Lilli have a cordial relationship — good enough to play the sparring Petruchio and Katherine in “Shrew,” anyway. But she mistakes his advances toward Lois as being meant for her, is flattered by them, and then learns they weren’t for her after all, leading her to become Method Actress of the Century as she uses Katherine’s onstage fury toward Petruchio to vent her real-life anger toward Fred.
Richard Losee has a grand, booming voice as the mildly pompous Fred, and he’s a good foil for M’Lisa Hansen’s Lilli. It’s Hansen’s show, though. She sells her big number, “I Hate Men,” with all the energy and passion you could want, shrieking and stomping like a dinosaur throwing a temper tantrum. It’s fine, funny stuff.
The secondary couple is T.J. Young and Cindy Winkel as Bill and Lois, who play “Shrew’s” back-up couple Lucentio and Bianca. Neither actor has much to do in the show (or the show-within-a-show), but their singing voices are lovely and their smiles are pleasant. They get their big numbers — he sings “Bianca,” she does “Tom, Dick, or Harry” — and blend in with the ensemble the rest of the time.
Kevin Goertzen and Eldon Randall are amusing as the two gangster buffoons who handle a gambling-debt subplot that involves Bill, Fred and Lilli. Their big number, “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” is one of the funniest, rhymingest songs in a score full of them.
In the ensemble, Josh Romney and Paul Morley stand out as Hortensio and Gremio, the two suitors who join Lucentio in pursuing Bianca.
The second act opens with “Too Darn Hot,” a swinging number in which the ensemble complains about the heat and then starts dancing. (I think dancing is the last thing I would do if I were really hot, but a scene about people lying around in their shorts with the fan on probably wouldn’t inspire much audience interest.) This is the easily the best dance number in the show, full of truly impressive choreography by Korianne Orton-Johnson.
The first act is much breezier than the second, which gets bogged down in a lengthy scene between Fred, Lilli and Harrison. The resolution is also a little vague, and too easily arrived at. But don’t let those quibbles stop you from seeing a first-rate performance of a first-rate musical — and one that can count as your monthly Shakespeare requirement, too, if you stretch your definitions a little.
The first version of this review, which appeared online a few days before the print version, had a sizable mistake in it. In my notes (and my memory), I had Fred now chasing after Hattie. My error was pointed out, and I fixed it for the newspaper version.
The printed program for this show does not say who wrote it, except in a passing reference in the promotional paragraph ("... Cole Porter's award-winning score ..."). Surely the people who handle royalties don't like the authors' names being omitted from the programs.