'Kate' captures Porter sass, wit MusicalAnnapolis Summer Garden Theatre's production of 'Kiss Me Kate' looks as if it will be the group's third straight hit this season.

August 13, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I've loved Cole Porter's "Kiss Me Kate" since I was a child and would sit for hours in front of my dad's old stereo wearing out the grooves to repeat songs such as "So in Love," "Too Darn Hot," "Another Op'nin', Another Show" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

This play-within-a-play musical about love and dysfunction within a troupe of actors mounting Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" is one of Porter's masterpieces.

Most of the work's sassy color and vivacious wit is on display at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's production of "Kiss Me Kate," which plays Thursday through Sunday evenings through Sept. 5 at the outdoor stage across from City Dock.

The opening-night performance I saw Friday contained a few swallowed lines and tentative scenes, but the sold-out house was clearly thrilled with the result and, dollars to doughnuts, "Kate" will become the third big hit in a row in the ASGT's 33rd season under the lights in downtown Annapolis.

What's especially impressive about this production is that the actors bring across enough legitimate Shakespeare to make the format come alive. No one sounds the least bit stupid when Cole gives way to the Bard.

Set design gurus Brian Oster and Kevin Wallace help the cause considerably by turning the stage into a handsome backdrop for Petruchio's attempt to "Wife It Wealthily in Padua."

Jason Fulmer is very good as Fred Graham, the harried thespian doing his best to produce his play, win back his actress-former wife, and tame the on-stage shrew played by, you guessed it, that same hostile ex-wife.

Fulmer gets most of the role exactly right. He's a great weasel. The requisite pomposity is there, as is the tenderness for his co-star. A supple baritone gets him over most of the hurdles dotting this very difficult score. Once he attacks his opening scene with a little more confidence and nails down his words in "Wunderbar" and the hilarious "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" he's going to be super.

Anita O'Connor is a delight as Lilli Vanessi, the actress/shrew who is won over to such great effect in both plots. Her anger is palpable, she's prickly as a pear and her facial takes -- like the burn she does when she realizes Fred's love letter is actually meant for another -- are wonderfully funny.

With "So in Love" and "Wunderbar," O'Connor proves again that she's one of the best singers around, though even she can't quite belt out Katherine's "I Hate Men" in a chest voice.

In subsequent weeks, her part will be taken by the talented Eloise Ullman.

I adored Mary Armour-Kaiser as fickle sexpot Lois Lane. As always, she's cute, energetic and ready to hijack the stage with her facial expressions. I just wish the recorded tape had helped her more with "Always True to You in My Fashion." The tempo turned the clever text into a blur.

Kudos to Brianne Cobuzzi and Lauran Taylor, who shine in their solos (I love it when kids can sing Cole Porter with style), and to Ray Fulton and Patrick Palamara as the goofy gangsters who had the audience howling as they "Brushed Up Their Shakespeare" with consummate pizazz.

Ticket information and reservations: 410-268-0809.

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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