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Too Much Richard, but Still Hot

by James Yeara on June 26, 2014

Kiss Me, Kate
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Samuel and Bella Spewack, directed by Joe Calarco, Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, through July 12


This “Too Darn Hot” is too damned good for mere words. The Act 2 opening number of Barrington Stage Company’s current production of the classic Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate starts slowly: As the audience settle back into their seats, the lead performers of this play within a play exit to their backstage dressing rooms, and Paul (Matthew Bauman), the male lead’s dresser, slides through the portable doorway downstage left. With Pops (Joel Robertson) the stage doorman and two other stagehands, the song starts slowly, the “It’s too . . . darn . . . hot” understated, with a wipe of Paul’s brow and a gaze out into the heat of a Baltimore evening.

Photo by Kevin Sprague

With just the three backstage hands watching, Paul begins a slow, bluesy “I’d like to sup with my baby tonight,” the song weighted by the imagined heat. But as Paul goes into a little travel step, several chorus ladies, still dressed in the Elizabethan-esque dress (the play within the play is a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew), walk through the stage door to the alley, and Paul incorporates them into his flirting dance. Slowly adding shimmying and shoulder dipping, sly smiles and the come-hither adjusting of costumes, “Too Darn Hot” builds, the pace quickening as more and more cast members and stagehands walk through the stage door until it disappears in the full blast of Cole Porter’s music under Darren Cohen’s sharp direction. Aided by the addition of some of Shrew secondary leads—Lucentio (Tyler Hanes), Bianca (a lithe Mara Davi), Hortensio (Calvin Cooper), and Gremio (a stunningly acrobatic KC Fredericks), most notably—“Too Darn Hot” blazes through Lorin Latarro’s eclectic choreography. The music expands, the dancers meld into ménages, the music slides, a pas de deux shifts from males and females to male and male, and Porter’s music builds again as the fleet of foot join with the mere mortal stagehands joyously. The men help the women slip from their dresses, revealing bras, bustiers, and tap pants; the men strip down to their tights, codpieces, and six-pack abs while the choreography and song soon swoon into a sort of homage to Bob Fosse, and then music builds to a last climax.

It’s a toss-up whether the bras or the codpieces bounced higher.

And while the cast collapse onstage in dance wheel formation, their chests heaving, their hearts seeming to pump still in time with “It’s Too Darn Hot,” the audience erupts into applause. The show, for 47 seconds, does not go on, or, more accurately, goes on in the audience rhythm, long and loud. The dancers smile on stage, soaking in 47 seconds of audience-expressed rapture. Unlike the conditioned standing ovation at reflexively given at any play’s end, such 47 seconds of applause after the Act 2 opener is rightly a rarity. It is a measure of how joyously, infectiously sublime Barrington Stage Company’s “Too Darn Hot” is. Do not miss this.

As for the rest of this production of Cole Porter’s 1948 Tony Award-winning masterpiece: Amy Clark’s costumes are a bold, bright, colorful, delight; James Kronzer’s scenic design keeps pace with Porter’s music and sets the scenes with a theatrical flair; and Lorin Latarro’s choreography throughout is at times comical, bittersweet, arresting, and/or breath-taking. She is brilliant.

And for the remaining bits not yet mentioned in BSC’s Kiss Me Kate . . . It’s bawdy, naughty, and a little bit haughty. This is one of the few times in my life I’ve seen a show that had no business pumping so hard for penis jokes, as if the audience were too dumb to get them. Cole Porter’s pretty darned good, a genius, just as Shakespeare is, and when two geniuses are put together, their work doesn’t need a chaser of Cialis with an aperitif of Levitra. Let the penis jokes stand on their own. And at three hours long, BSC shows that not every song need be sung, and not every song deserves three encores–except if it’s “Too Darn Hot,” which could go on all night. Unlike BSC’s remounting of a 1940s classic musical last summer, On the Town, which opens on Broadway this coming September, this summer’s BSC remounting of a 1940s classic musical should not burst into Broadway any time soon, despite all the fans of gratuitous dick jokes.