I have a confession to make. I eavesdrop in the theater.
It's in the line of journalistic duty. I listen to hear what patrons think about the play they're watching. So my interest was piqued at the Clarence Brown Theatre's Thursday preview of "Kiss Me Kate." The Cole Porter musical is about a 1940s theater company performing William Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." It's the University of Tennessee's last play of the 2011-12 season.
At intermission a woman in the row before me turned to another woman to ask, "What do you think?" Her tone made it clear she enjoyed the musical with its broad comedy. "I like it," said her companion.
Later, walking out of the theater after more than 2½hours, I heard another woman remark, "That was fun." Somewhere behind me someone was humming a bit of a tune from the show.
Fun is key in "Kiss Me Kate," a tale about love off- and on-course. It's the often-familiar story of warring lovers — and not just when the actors are reciting Shakespeare. These headstrong, complicated people love each other despite — or perhaps because of — their conflicts.
Cole Porter's music — songs like "So In Love," "I Hate Men" and "Too Darn Hot" — are alone worth the ticket price.
The Calvin MacLean-directed production never fails. The set, costumes and choreography are seamless. The orchestra conducted by Terry Silver-Alford is more part of the show than an accompaniment.
But the cast carries the show. Neil Friedman, who began the season playing David O. Selznick in "Moonlight and Magnolias," is forceful producer/actor Fred Graham. Graham's ex-wife and acting diva Lilli Vanessi is played by singer/actress Katy Wolfe Zahn. Zahn frequently is a soloist with the Knoxville and Oak Ridge symphonies, and she performs her songs, particularly "So in Love," beautifully. She also possesses the comic touch required for the story.
Magan Wiles and Conrad Ricamora pair well as the second romantic leads, Wiles is particularly charming as the man-magnet and dancer Lois Lane.
Micah-Shane Brewer quietly but effectively grows more and more harried as stage manger Ralph. David Brian Alley and Stuart Matthews are debt-collecting, star-struck and scene-stealing gangsters in pinstripes. The ensemble is more than a supporting cast.
"Kiss Me Kate" doesn't try to solve life's deep questions. It does prove love has no logic.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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