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Posted February 28, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Review: 'Kate' woos audience, offering lively music, plot

Michael Enright and Erin Regan play the feuding stars in Shenandoah Conservatory’s production of “Kiss Me Kate,” the Cole Porter musical, which opened Thursday night. Courtesy photo

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By John Horan Jr. -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Despite its politically incorrect theme, "Kiss Me Kate" remains a frisky Broadway war-horse, brimming with humor, indelible characters and, above all, some of Cole Porter's most scintillating music.

The show's enduring appeal is fully realized in the exuberant Shenandoah Conservatory production, directed by Jonathan Flom. The acting is excellent, the musicianship superb (the orchestra revels in the eclectic arrangements) and Allen Arnett's choreography at times dazzling.

Porter's virtuosity is on full display in "Kate" -- from the opening Broadway hymn "Another Op'nin', Another Show," to Viennese operetta, haunting love songs, the sultry "Too Darn Hot" and the cleverly nonsensical "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Porter's sly, witty and often naughty lyrics have no peer.

Sam and Bella Spewack's story moves smoothly between an acting company's efforts to stage a musical version of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" -- hence the emphasis on female subservience, enforced by spanking -- and the similar real-life struggle between the troupe's stars, modeled on Albert Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. In "Kate," Fred and Lilli, now divorced, are trying to get on with their private lives while still harboring amorous feelings toward each other. Their behind-the-scenes feuding is every bit as titanic as the on-stage tension between their characters, Petruchio and Kate.

Michael Enright and Erin Regan, the Shenandoah leads, bring an entertaining aggressiveness to their roles. Their encounters are indeed furious although each goes beyond caricature. His commanding egotism is leavened by touches of wistfulness while her true feelings peek through her sometimes haughty exterior. Both sing beautifully.

Stand-out performances are supplied by Mikey Nagy and John Weathers as the gangsters who infiltrate the acting company to try to collect a gambling debt. One is droll and elfin, the other stiff and reticent, but each is a master of comedic tricks, amplified by their mix-and-match attire when they join the Shakespeare cast on stage. They cap the show with the vaudevillian "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" paean.

Sarah Selser is the sultry Lois/Bianca and Chris Douglas her self-effacing suitor. Benjamin JC Luczak is the cartoonishly megalomaniacal general who woos Lilli.

Tarrying at intermission risks missing some of the feverish "Too Darn Hot," smoothly led by David Bazemore. Overflowing with Porter's musical and verbal dexterity, the number starts small but steadily adds dancers and fervor until the ensemble is cavorting wildly to Arnett's rollicking choreography.

Michael Jones supplies the handsome set, William Pierson the tasteful lighting and Jennifer Flitton Adams the lavish costumes.

Contact John Horan at jhoran@nvdaily.com

• "Kiss Me Kate"
• By Cole Porter
• Directed by Jonathan Flom
• Continuing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theater today at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Box office phone number: 665-4569. Web site: www.su.edu/conservatory.


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