KISS ME KATE’s opening number, Another Op’nin’, Another Show [in Boston Philly and Baltimo’] is Cole Porter’s masterful contribution to the show business anthem collection. All the great musicals of the era had one. In the Longwood Players’ troubled production (running through next weekend), you’re apprehensive way before the first number, listening to the painful overture. And it doesn’t help their cause that Porter’s lyrics for the show within the show recount the cast’s jitters: “Three weeks and it couldn’t be worse” or “at one week you wonder will it ever be right.” I’m very sorry to say I’m wondering if it will.
When I saw it opening weekend the orchestra wasn’t ready. If only the violins could play the whole score in pizzicato. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about the screech. If only the horn would mute. And the choreography: Alas, it wasn’t anywhere close to being ready. Many of the performers aren’t dancers so why ask them to execute leaps they can’t possibly master? And why aim for the lowest common denominator by having a woman plunge her male dance partner’s head into her ample bosom. (I’ve never seen that move in dance notation.) Just as cringe worthy were the transitions in the choreography: Some of the dancers stood marking time between steps as if someone had said “At ease.”
Except for Matthew Kossack’s vibrant, polished Too Darn Hot solo, the dance numbers (especially the clunky Tarantella) weigh the show down. The principle performers sing well enough but their acting (and you ought to be interpreting the songs as well as the role) leaves a lot to be desired. My chief complaint is their incessant mugging to the audience. This is the one show where mugging is crucial to the story and it belongs only to the mugs. The gangsters who have arrived to settle a gambling debt and find themselves thrust on stage during a production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW get to do the mugging because they don’t know any better. Nobody else should be waving or winking or pointing to people in the audience.
Happily, the thugs not only steal the show, they steal our hearts as well. What a delight to see a number which works like, well, gangbusters! Andy LeBrun and James Aitchison resuscitate the musical single-, no, double- handedly with their hilarious Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
Last but not least, when you have a solid, proven, veteran performer like Anthony Mullin as the Southern suitor of the leading lady, why oh why would you cut his song? It doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s integral in order for the leading lady to decide that she doesn’t want to live in Georgia “from this moment on.”
I know sometimes things go awry. And sometimes things can be fixed. Here’s hoping next weekend it all comes together.