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LET’S REVIEW: Old Globe’s ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ is a summer sensation

Anastasia Barzee (center) stars as Lilli Vanessi with the cast of the Hartford Stage/Old Globe co-production of ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ at The Old Globe Theatre.
Anastasia Barzee (center) stars as Lilli Vanessi with the cast of the Hartford Stage/Old Globe co-production of ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ at The Old Globe Theatre.
(T. Charles Erickson)

“Kiss Me, Kate” (music and lyrics by Cole Porter) revisits Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and the conflicts on- and off-stage between Fred Graham, the show’s director, producer and star, and his leading lady, his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi.

It’s been stated this was Porter’s response to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” and other musicals. Whatever the reason, the play hit Broadway in 1949, became a huge hit with 1,000-plus performances, and won the first Tony Award presented for Best Musical.

The play returns to The Old Globe Theatre under the direction of Tony Award-winner and Old Globe-favorite Darko Tresnjak. From the moment the production begins, laughter and applause abound from the audience. On stage in this dance-driven story, legs are kicking, arms reaching everywhere, and every new scene continues to feed the plot and entertain.

The dance scenes are amusing and satisfying. James T. Lane (as Paul), stomps out tap steps as if he was born to it and his high leaps are amazing.

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Each actor excels in reminding us this is a play about a play; the precision of so much going on at the same time yet never losing focus, is due to the artful direction of Tresnjak.

Sexiness oozes through this production centering on Petruchio (Mike McGowan) and Kate (Anastasia Barzee), as well as Bill Calhoun (Tyler Hanes) and Lois Lane (Megan Sikora), among others, who all dazzle with their romantic dance moves.

Celebrated Broadway, film and television actress Barzee was cast for the lead roles of crossover females Lilli/Kate. Mike McGowan plays her former lover and reluctant co-stars Fred/Petruchio.

Even with a huge theatrical resume, Barzee admits she was not familiar with this “Kiss Me, Kate.”

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“I knew a lot of the scores and Cole Porter standards that have been around forever, but I’d never seen the show or the (1953) movie,” she said. “When I got the invitation asking if I was interested in coming to audition for Darko, I said yes. Then I read the script and it’s hilarious. I realized this is one of those great juicy roles I’m finally old enough to play. I auditioned and was very fortunate to be cast.”

Darko recently finished the Hartford run of “Kiss Me Kate,” so the majority of the delightful cast in the Globe production comes from that run, working with book by Sam and Bella Spewack, and choreography by Peggy Hickey.

Of the dance numbers, Barzee said, “The job of a choreographer is great storytelling and Peggy’s tells a story, which separates her from others.”

Thanks to her amazing singing voice Barzee said she’s enjoying every minute of the show. “I have a lot of fun with the scene where Lilli sings ‘I Hate Men,’ “ she said. “But there’s a scene toward the end where Darko did something that I loved. It’s a nod to the Marx Brothers’ ‘Night at the Opera.’ It works, and it’s funny; it’s amazing with everyone stuffed in my dressing room.”