`Kate' is lush, but also busy

Annapolis Chorale offers talented singers, a 170-voice chorus and a full orchestra


October 12, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To open their 35th season, J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chorale brought their talents in the Broadway musical genre to Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, investing it with everything this classic deserves.

Instead of a synthesizer or small combo, Green and the Annapolis Chorale offered a full orchestra, 170-voice chorus and leading players who are classically trained singers.

With the overture downbeat Saturday night, the audience was instantly immersed in Porter's fabulous score. From the liveliness of "Another Op'nin', Another Show" to the lush romanticism of "So in Love" to the infectious rhythms of "Too Darn Hot" and the delicious schmaltz of "Wunderbar," the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra transported us back to Broadway's golden age.

The Maryland Hall stage was so full with chorus and orchestra that there seemed little room for any dramatic action to create the Kiss Me Kate/The Taming of the Shrew play within a play.

In past seasons, Green has single-handedly staged these "Broadway in Concert" productions, but this time the staging was done by Michael LaFleur. He created a fuller adaptation of the show, but the results sometimes seemed overly busy. The stage was so jammed that I didn't always know where to look. Within the limited confines of Maryland Hall's stage, I prefer Green's more minimalist approach.

As the chorus sang an engaging "Another Op'nin', Another Show," baritone Shouvik Mondle appeared on stage as leading man/actor Fred Graham, who plays Petruchio, to check on The Taming of the Shrew rehearsal.

Also moving about the stage was Fred's current girlfriend Lois Lane, to be seen as Shrew's Bianca. She was played by Katie Hale, an Actors' Equity performer who has graced earlier Annapolis Chorale productions. She contributed here with "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True to You in My Fashion."

Lighting up the stage, Ashleigh Rabbitt arrived on the scene as leading lady Lilli Vanessi, Fred's former wife, who is to play Shakespeare's Shrew.

The couple's ambivalent relationship was soon made clear in the singing of "Wunderbar" - a spoof of a Viennese-like waltz. Miking difficulties made Mondle's voice overpower Rabbitt's - and made this number not entirely wunderbar for me.

Mondle's magnificent voice of wide dynamic range required no amplification. His sonorous baritone so powerful that to mike his voice was akin to miking a thunderbolt.

Despite this reservation, I found Mondle to deliver a compelling "Were Thine That Special Face" and to exhibit a talent for sophisticated comedy in his singing of "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?"

In a stellar performance, soprano Rabbitt proved her versatility by offering a heartfelt "So in Love" and comic "I Hate Men," and she proved to be a convincing actress as well.

Adding style and grace in his every move, Matt Hardy was outstanding as Bill Calhoun. Other supporting players delivered all that was required vocally and dramatically.

Under Green's direction the chorus and orchestra delivered musical gifts all evening - a lovely orchestral interlude in "Were Thine That Special Face" and jazz pianist Eric Apland's delectable combo playing of "Too Darn Hot" offered a lively change of pace.

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