In a nutshell, Fred Graham(Tom Hewitt) is directing and starring in a musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew". His ex-wife, Lilli(Lisa Vroman), has been cast as the female lead, Katharine. Fred's mistress, Lois(Andrea Chamberlain), is also in the cast as well as Lois's latest essay writer paramour, dancer Bill Calhoun(Curtis Holbrook). You with me so far?
When Bill loses big to a Baltimore mobster he forges Director Fred's name to the IOU. Two gunmen show up at the theater wanting the money and Fred talks them into waiting until the opening night's receipts have come in. They stick around to insure that the show goes on.
Kiss Me Kate is a show within a show, full of lavish, beautifully crafted costumes in both the Elizabethan era and the sophisticated 1940s American style. There are chorus girls and boys, lots of dancing and singing, all done with verve and a bit of bawdy fun.
As for the leads, Hewitt and Vroman, whether they were kissing or brawling, they sent sparks flying all over Forest Park. Both have enviable voices with incredible range but more than that, they're actors. They know how to move, they know where the jokes are, how a phrase should be turned to produce maximum impact, and they know how to play to each other to give the audience full measure of the romance of the roles.
Surprise of the evening was veteran actor (Conrad) John Schuck as First Gunman. Schuck began his career in Robert Altman's 1969 movie, M*A*S*H and has worked constantly since then in television, movies, and on Broadway. Schuck and Second Gunman Lee Roy Reams...one of
Broadway's most recognized song and dance men and appearing in his fourth Muny production...perform the show's amazingly crafted "Brush Up Your Shakespeare". They earned a standing ovation for the number.
Andrea Chamberlain is vivacious and naughty as the ex-nightclub cutie with a varied romantic past. Curtis Calhoun as the rambling gambling Bill is an amazing dancer.
It was lovely to see a couple of local favorites in the cast, Joneal Joplin as Baptista offered his usual brand of easy professionalism, and Jeanne Trevor performed as a featured singer in "Too Darned Hot". What a voice!
Only one driticism: The orchestra. I'm no expert by anyone's standards, but even I could tell that the musicians were a bit lackluster. They were just the slightest bit late on soe of the musical cues, and at one point during an ensemble number it was clear they were vamping until they could catch up. With production values so high in every other area, the Muny might be well served to take a look at the orchestra's potential for improvement.