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Posted February 19, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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SU Conservatory returns to Shakespeare for latest comedy

Dancers practice
Dancers practice during rehearsals for the Shenandoah Conservatory production of "Kiss Me Kate." Dennis Grundman/Daily

Sarah Sesler performs
Sarah Sesler, as Lois, right, performs a song in front of Chris Douglas, as Bill, in Shenandoah's "Kiss Me Kate." Dennis Grundman/Daily

Michael Enright and Erin Regan sing
Michael Enright, as Fred, left, and Erin Regan, as Lilli, sing while she applies makeup before the show. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Jessie Hooker and Regan rehearse
Jessie Hooker, as Hattie, left, and Regan rehearse recently. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Sarah Sesler has been waiting to play the role of Lois Lane for the past seven years, after a friend cast as Lois in their high school production of "Kiss Me Kate" told Sesler, "The next time you're in the show, you're going to be Lois Lane."

At the time, Sesler, a freshman, had been cast as part of the ensemble. Now, in her second appearance in the musical set in 1948, she is one of the stars.

Shenandoah Conservatory will set the stage for typical Shakespearean comedy this month in its production of "Kiss Me Kate."

Almost 400 years after William Shakespeare passed away, his work is still a huge influence in popular entertainment, from stage to Hollywood, as evident from the plot of playwright Cole Porter's most successful play.

Reminiscent of last spring's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a Shakespearean comedy which also includes a play within a play, "Kiss Me Kate" includes one of Shakespeare's most famous comedies -- "The Taming of the Shrew"-- and follows the exploits of the four main characters, whose love lives intertwine as they must sort out misunderstandings and overcome ill feelings toward each other in order to complete their Broadway-bound musical version of the English play set in Italy.

Erin Regan plays Lilli Vanessi, the movie star ex-wife of Fred Graham, played by Michael Enright. Enright is directing "The Taming of the Shrew" and portrays Petruchio opposite Lilli's Katharina. The problem is the two ex-lovers harbor much animosity toward each other, and their personalities clash while on stage. To make matters worse, Lilli realizes she is still in love with Fred when she receives flowers from him that are meant for Lois Lane. Lois, however, has feelings for Bill Calhoun, played by Chris Douglas. More chaos ensues when Bill inadvertently leads a group of gangsters after Fred to collect money from Bill's gambling losses.

"It's got its own challenges because you're dealing with staying in two worlds at the same time," says "Kiss Me Kate" director Jonathan Flom. Throughout the plot, the characters are living in 1948 as they work with each other to complete the musical production of Shakespeare's play, which takes place in 16th-century Italy.

"Cole Porter does a very distinct job with the lyrics," Sesler says, explaining that the song lyrics mimic the time period in which the characters live, successfully allowing the audience to keep pace with the changing plot.

Flom feels the production works because of the parallel between the friction of the characters' lives with the lives of the characters they portray in "The Taming of the Shrew."

"It's a smart show," he says. "This has a lot of depth to it."

Though the characters seem to betray their own motivations, Flom says their true feelings shine through in the end.

Sesler agrees about her own character.

"She has kind of a quirky go about," she says of Lois, who flirts with just about every man she sees, though Bill is her boyfriend. The song she sings in Act II, "Always True to You," pretty much says it all, however. "She's true to Bill," Sesler says. "She's always true to her boyfriend."

Flom says he has worked hard to make sure everyone in the show has created a very rich background for their characters, explaining that though the production takes place over the course of only a few hours, the audience will be able to relate well to the characters in that short amount of time.

"I think everyone will relate to someone in the cast," Flom says. "I think it's going to be a very entertaining night."

Shenandoah Conservatory's production of "Kiss Me Kate" will show at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre at Shenandoah University in Winchester from Wednesday through March 1, with shows at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 665-4569.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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