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It's Too Darn Hot: 'Kiss Me, Kate' At The Pasadena Playhouse

Kelsey M. Tidball |
September 24, 2014 | 4:51 p.m. PDT


Wayne Brady and Merle Dandridge.  Photo by Earl Gibson III.
Wayne Brady and Merle Dandridge. Photo by Earl Gibson III.
Lights up on an empty stage, ready to be transformed into Renaissance-age Padua. The scene is set, the costumes made, the dialogue learned, but first, the actors must agree to get along and put aside their differences long enough to make it to opening night of William Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew." Cole Porter’s iconic musical "Kiss Me, Kate" opened at The Pasadena Playhouse this weekend, and with it came an uproariously funny, enlightening, and foot-tapping look at the joys and heartache brought on by live theater—both on stage and off.

With brilliant direction by Sheldon Epps, Motown-infused choreography by Jeffrey Polk, and beautiful performances by five-time Emmy Award winner Wayne Brady, Broadway goddess Merle Dandridge, and a fabulous cast of 15 tremendously talented supporting characters, "Kiss Me, Kate" is a true tribute to Cole Porter’s original Tony-winning story.

Epps’ version of "Kiss Me, Kate" follows a troupe of young African American actors looking to perform a musical version of William Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew," aptly entitled "Swinging of the Shrew." The first rousing notes ring out as the cast of Shrew gathers to lament about the magic of the theater in “Another Op’nin,’ Another Show,” singing “Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse/Three week and it couldn’t be worse/One week, will it ever be right?/Then, out of the hat, it’s that big first night!” Under the guidance of their esteemed writer-actor-producer, Fred Graham (Wayne Brady), the cast then resumes rehearsal and prepares for opening night. On walks the glamorous Lilli Vanessi (Merle Dandridge), the show’s 'bawdy' Katherine and Fred’s ex-wife, and the source of unrest becomes evident— Lilli is now engaged to a new man, a general by the name of Howell, and Fred and Lilli are working together for the first time since their divorce.

SEE ALSO: Theater Review: 'Sleepless In Seattle: The Musical' At The Pasadena Playhouse

Complications ensue as Lilli and Fred meet in the dressing room before the show, and Fred’s dresser mistakenly gives flowers and a note intended for Lois (Joanna A. Jones), the actress playing Bianca, to Lilli. Consequently, Lilli thinks that Fred still loves her, and she goes onstage with the un-read note, addressed to Lois, tucked into her corset for good luck. The rest of the plot follows Fred’s feeble attempts at atonement for his previously-deceptive actions, and, in true Musical Theater fashion, even includes a pair of debt-collecting gangsters who threaten to kill Fred and Lilli if the show does not complete its run, and do a bit of singing and dancing along the way.

The production does not cease to delight and entertain, show-casing the well-seasoned talent of Brady and Dandridge, along with fresh, vibrant new-comers such as Joanna Jones, Jenelle Lynn Randall, and Terrance Spencer. Brady delights as the charming Fred Graham and as the ambitious Petruchio, perfectly embodying the quintessential Broadway Leading Man and captivating with tunes such as “So in Love” and “Were Thine That Special Face.” Dandridge is both lovely and hilarious, inspiring women everywhere with her bitingly funny rendition of “I Hate Men.” Jones gives a show-stopping performance as the passionate, frisky Lois Lane, bringing down the house with Porter’s saucy tune, “Always True To You in My Fashion.” The cast is spot-on and captivating performing riotous dance numbers such as “Tom, Dick, or Harry” and “Too Darn Hot.”

As a part of the ground-breaking Wells Fargo Theatrical Diversity Project, "Kiss Me, Kate" seamlessly blends together African American culture, Shakespeare, and Cole Porter’s expertly-laid foundation for the Modern American Musical. As stated by Diahann Carroll, Tony Award winning actress and long-time beneficiary of The Diversity Project, “Theater is becoming less about ‘Who is she, what is he,’ and more about ‘Can he sing, can she dance.’” This production flawlessly proves Carroll’s point by show-casing some of the finest African American talent in the nation. With intricate, era-appropriate sets, colorful, dance-worthy costumes, and a phenomenal cast and creative team, "Kiss Me, Kate" is sure to inspire audiences to “brush up their Shakespeare!”

“Kiss Me, Kate” is playing through Oct. 12 at The Pasadena Playhouse (39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena). Tickets are $57-$125. For more information visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.  

Reach Contributor Kelsey M. Tidball here.

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