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Broadway at Duke Preview: Kiss Me, Kate Is a Vintage Backstage Musical and a Classic Battle of the Sexes

February 16, 2004 - Durham, NC:


Brush up your Shakespeare. Broadway at Duke is bringing the current National Tour of the Tony Award®-winning 1999 Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate to Page Auditorium Feb. 16 for one night only. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew (1593-94), Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare's classic Battle of the Sexes, this magnificent backstage musical by Sam and Bella Spewack (book) and Cole Porter (songs) made its Broadway debut at the New Century Theatre on Dec. 30, 1948, moved to the Shubert Theatre on July 31, 1950, and ran for a total of 1,077 performances. It won five 1949 Tony Awards® (including the first-ever Tony Award for Best Musical) and closed on July 28, 1951.

The 1999 Broadway revival opened Nov. 18 at the Martin Beck Theatre and ran for 881 performances. It won five 2000 five Tony Awards (including the award for Best Revival of a Musical), plus six Drama Desk Awards, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Revival, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards.

Set at Ford's Theatre in Baltimore in June 1948, during an out-of-town tryout for a new musical based on The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me, Kate focuses on the hilarious backstage and onstage bickerings of actor/producer Fred Graham and his ex-wife, B-movie star Lilli Vanessi, who reluctantly team up to play Petruchio and Kate, because they both desperately need a hit to revive their careers. More and more and much to the audience's delight the explosive relationship between Fred and Lilli begins to mirror the rocky tempestuous between the egotistical Petruchio and the wildcat Kate.

Kiss Me, Kate is one of the greatest musicals of all time. "You'll revel in the hilarious antics of Sam and Bella Spewack's story of theatre folk and gangsters," claims the show's press kit, "and listen to 18 unforgettable, classic Cole Porter songs including 'Another Op'nin, Another Show,' 'Too Darn Hot,' 'So In Love,' 'Wunderbar,' 'Brush Up Your Shakespeare,' and 'Why Can't You Behave.'"

The current tour of Kiss Me, Kate, produced by NETworks Presentations and directed by Joe Leonardo and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood, stars Dexter James Brigham as Fred Graham/Petruchio and Emily Herring as Lilli Vanessi/Kate and features Martin Pakledinaz's Tony-winning costumes from the 1999 Broadway revival. The rest of the production team for the tour includes lighting designer Diane Ferry Williams and sound designer Shannon Slaton.

Kiss Me, Kate co-stars Derek Roland as hopelessly irresponsible Bill Calhoun/Lucentio and Lori Eve Marinacci as man-crazy Lois Lane/Bianca a cute couple who just cannot remain faithful to each other (Why Can't You Behave?" and "Always True to You in My Fashion"). Lois is flirting with Fred; and Bill is not only chasing everything in skirts, but also running up massive gambling debts and signing Fred's name to the IOUs. It is not too long before the gamblers send a couple of goons (Brad Simmons and Noel Larrieu) to collect one overdue IOU but the legbreakers eventually find themselves on stage and stop the show with their riotous rendition of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

"It's always a treat to hear Cole Porter's wonderful music, and it's especially effective in a production like 'Kiss Me, Kate' ...," claims Neil Novelli of the Syracuse, New York Post-Standard. "The show is filled with fine voices and attractive sets and costumes."

In the Scranton, Pennsylvania Times, Joseph F. Caputo writes, "The show features the talents of two dynamic performers in the lead roles: Dexter James Brigham as Petruchio/Fred Graham and Emily Herring as Katherine/Lilli Vanessi." Caputo adds, "The two share a special spark and fire that add to the plausibility of the situation where the couple, newly divorced, are still very much in love. They share many magical moments during the evening. Most memorable is Ms. Herring's rendition of 'So In Love,' later reprised by the charismatic Mr. Brigham, who possesses a powerful operatic baritone voice."

And Amy Lamphere of the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star raves, "'Too Darn Hot' opens the second act and brings down the house, with some superb ensemble dancing that reminds one of the best Gene Kelly/jazz choreography. It alone is worth the price of admission."

Broadway at Duke presents Kiss Me, Kate Monday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in Page Auditorium on Duke University's West Campus in Durham, North Carolina. $35-$45 ($15-$25 Duke students). Note: Group discounts are available. 919/684-4444 or http://tickets.duke.edu/. Broadway At Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5083. Kiss Me, Kate (Tour): http://www.kissmekatetour.com/ [inactive 7/04]. Parking Alert: There is no free parking adjacent to the Page Auditorium anymore. You may purchase a $3 parking voucher when you buy your ticket or pay $5 at the new Parking Deck (PGIV) located on Science Drive, behind the Bryan Center.