Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack
Directed by Bob Knuth
Choreographed by Kevin Bellie
Music Direction by Carolyn Brady Riley
Produced by Circle Theatre
At the former Village Players Theatre in Oak Park
Sound problems plague Kiss Me Kate
This is my first Circle Theatre production in their new digs in Oak Park at the former Village Players Theatre. That space is a vast improvement from the tiny, low ceiling stage in Circle Theatre’s Forest Park location. The new space has more seating and a large deep and high stage complete with a second level. This location will allow Circle Theatre’s Kevin Bellie to create even more ambitious choreography for their musicals and allow Bob Knuth to be even more creative with his handsome set designs. Both were on display with their promising production of Cole Porter’s 1948 Kiss Me Kate.
The press notes state: “Cole Porter’s classic play-within-a-musical that follows the lives of egotistical actor-producer Fred Graham and his temperamental co-star and ex-wife, Lili Vanessi appearing in a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Sparks fly on and offstage as exes quarrel, velvet period costumes rustle, and dance pyrotechnics ignite this masterpiece.” All the ingredients are here for a fabulous evening of musical comedy.
Unfortunately, major sound problems marred the production. After the first few lines of “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” it became apparent that Hatti’s (Christine Ronna) voice could not be heard since she was drowned out my the four person orchestra located upstage on the second level. As the show progressed, I was unable to hear nor understand most of the solo singers, especially those located upstage. Even ensemble songs were difficult to hear when only one singer was singing. Being unable to hear Porter’s smart and stinging lyrics hurt my enjoyment of the production.
The problem here is sound. I’m amazed that no one realized that the high ceiling and the location of the orchestra would render most solos mute! Here the orchestra dominated. This problem has several solutions: I’d mute the percussion with those plastic shields I’ve seen at other venues; I’d consider relocating the orchestra so as to mute their sound a tad; and I’d consider using body amplification on the principal singers. One thing for sure, I’d instruct all solo singers to belt more and increase their volume so maybe they can be heard. The soft lyrics were especially hard to hear. At the show’s intermission several folks were asking each other: “Are you also having trouble hearing the singers?” The answer was “yes” from many folks. I hope that problem can quickly be solved since this production sure has promise.
Kevin Bellie’s choreography was enthusiastic, varied and creative. It was highlighted by the “Too Darn Hot” act two opening number. Jennie Sophia’s Lily/Kate and Rachel Quinn’s Lois/Bianca were effective. Quinn had the best number in the show as she nailed the sexy “Always True To You In My Fashion” song.
I was disappointed with Andy Baldeschwiler’s performance as Fred/Petruchio. His singing was weak and it was easily drowned out by the orchestra. A stronger voice and more charismatic Fred/Petruchio would have served the show better. John Roder and Tommy Bullington worked hard as the two gangsters and their “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” was comical despite being hard to understand.
While I was disappointed by the sound problems, I do believe that once those issues are addressed and the singers either start belting over the orchestra and/or the sound gets muted a tad, Kiss Me Kate will be a worthy show. The material is excellent. I’m sure the folks at Circle Theatre will fix things. They have such a rich history of mounting excellent musicals that they’ll solve the challenges of their new venue.
At The Performance Center, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park, IL, tickets: Fri: All seats $22; Sat/Sun: $26 for adults, $24 for students/seniors, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission.
Here are 2 numbers from the 2001 Broadway revival of “Kiss Me Kate”: