Theater Review: KISS ME, KATE (L.A. – Westwood)

by Harvey Perr on May 12, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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Here’s a mouth-watering recipe for making people happy:

1) Take a great musical.
(Kiss Me, Kate will do. If you need to ask why, then I’ll tell you: It’s both a wonderful backstage comedy romance and a scintillating interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and it combines the two in a delight-filled book by Sam and Bella Spewack,Kiss Me, Kate - book by Sam and Bella Spewack music and lyrics by Cole Porter – directed by Michael Michetti - Reprise Theatre Company one of the few libretti that time has not tarnished – and whatever little changes John Guare has made are seamlessly injected – and one of the truly great scores of all time, one that brought out Cole Porter’s full powers as composer and lyricist with one gorgeous song after another, including “So In Love,” which may very well be one of the two most perfect songs Porter ever wrote.)

2) Add a hot director.
(Michael Michetti’s spectacularly well wrangled production would be a perfect model; he seems willing to go where few have gone before; plunging headlong into the rich comic lode provided him and coming up one-on-one with funnier results than anyone could have thought possible – maybe his Comedy of Errors was just a warm-up for what he achieves here.)

3) Mix in a terrific cast.
(For taste, there’s Tom Hewitt who, as Fred Graham, makes you believe he is every bit as good an actor and leading man as he is a slightly devious, slightly unscrupulous human being, and who, as Petruchio, is both dashing hero and buffoon, and, in either or both, he adds delicious flavoring. For body, there’s Lesli Margherita who, as Lili Vanessi, is, despite a deglamorizing wig, every diva you’ve ever come across or run away from, and Kiss Me, Kate - book by Sam and Bella Spewack music and lyrics by Cole Porter – directed by Michael Michetti - Reprise Theatre Companywho, as Shakespeare’s Kate, is a comic virago of such scrumptious beauty and bumptious behavior that you want to take her in your arms or keep her at arm’s length, but never let her out of your sight. For spice, there’s Meg Gillentine, and even though a little spice can go a long way, don’t be stingy with this particular spice; the way she plays Lois Lane – no, not that Lois Lane! – and Kate’s sister Bianca, she adds tang and juice and more than a little bite. For smokiness, there’s Jerald Vincent’s Paul and Christine Horn’s Hattie; a little sampling of each adds immeasurably to the pot. For variety, there’s Herschel Sparber and Jay Brian Winnick as the two henchmen who come to collect a debt and who, in order to make sure the debt gets paid, keep Lilli hostage when she threatens to leave the show;  admittedly, these are added ingredients, but without them, the recipe just wouldn’t be complete, because, when you consider the aftertaste of the meal, these are the ingredients you may remember most. Add a soupçon of Sean Martin Hingston who, as Lois’s gambling-addicted inamorato, dances up a storm – and though his “Bianca” still seems to be in the throes of coming together, it is possible that, when the number really starts cooking, you might want to add more than a soupçon).

4) Don’t be afraid to make bold choices.
(There is no such thing as too many show-stoppers. Go for it. The recipe is richer if you are willing to take chances. Gillentine and Hingston, with the help of Scott Alan Hislop and Ray Garcia, turn “Tom, Dick, or Harry” into a fine broth. Margherita Kiss Me, Kate - book by Sam and Bella Spewack music and lyrics by Cole Porter – directed by Michael Michetti - Reprise Theatre Companywhips “I Hate Men” into a superb cream sauce that is balanced by just the right amount of vinegar. “Too Darn Hot” provides the salt and pepper and nutmeg and, together, they add a swirl of exciting finger-licking goodness, and when we get a flash of dance between Vincent and Horn, there is genuine sizzle that may leave you asking for more; be careful, it may be perfect just as is. Always taste, before adding more of anything. Hewitt makes every song he sings reverberate, but, when he bites into “Where is The Life That Late I Led,” he pulls out a plum with each new wickedly witty stanza. “Always True to You in My Fashion” was always a potential show-stopper and Porter must have had enormous fun writing the many encores, but not nearly as much fun as Michetti and Gillentine have finding ways to make those encores merge into one side-splittingly imaginative number. But, of course, the pièce de resistance is “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” out of which Sparber and Winnick make minced meat, and, between you and me, minced meat never tasted better. And, of course, there’s always “So In Love.”)

5) Extras.
(Any good cook will tell you that the reasons for a feast are as important as the feast itself. So, as you prepare the recipe, think of the setting. Like Tom Buderwitz’s set, which is simple and flexible and highly efficient. Kiss Me, Kate - book by Sam and Bella Spewack music and lyrics by Cole Porter – directed by Michael Michetti - Reprise Theatre CompanyOr Lee Martino’s dances which have energy and sparkle and which, considering the short amount of time it took to bring this show out of the oven, can seem amazing. Or Michael Paternostro’s music direction which is not afraid to slow down a song or speed up another one when the moment calls for one or the other. Or Gary Lennon’s costumes which are the wittiest in town and are, in the case of what he’s done for Petruchio, downright hilarious. From the daffiest cod piece I’ve ever laughed at to the kind of silly grandeur conjured up by the majestic Puss-in-Boots outfit he dons in the second act, Lennon’s work is tastefully inelegant.)

6) Keep in a cool place until ready to serve.
(If you follow the directions above, you may not achieve the same results, but you should keep trying until you do. Like everything else that looks easy, it requires painstaking work. Nothing is as easy as it looks. Even the Reprise Theatre Company, which mostly gets it right, has never, in the time I’ve spent with their productions, got it quite so right. This Kiss Me, Kate is a full meal that has the aroma of the sweetest dessert.)

harveyperr @

photos by Ed Krieger

Kiss Me, Kate
scheduled to close May 22 at time of publication
for tickets, visit

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