foils: (l-r) Romano and Larsen in Kiss Me, Kate.
Cory Waever/Glimmerglass Opera
Cole Porter and Sam and Bella Spewack, conducted by David
Charles Abell, directed by Diane Paulus
Glimmerglass Opera, July 7
Stephen Sondheim is fond of noting that he doesn’t work in
opera because it’s a form that is developed without an audience
at hand. While popular taste shouldn’t dictate artistic quality,
a theatrical piece should please or at least pleasingly provoke
an audience, and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate has been
doing that for 60 years.
As part of the Glimmerglass Opera’s current inspired-by-Shakespeare
season, it’s a departure from the operatic norm, and a welcome
contrast. But it’s been subjected to the same high-concept
mill that infects so many operatic productions, ultimately
revealing the two greatest deficiencies of this mentality:
The creative teams don’t trust the score, and don’t understand
the nature of wit.
Never has there been as witty a composer-lyricist as Porter,
and never has that quality shone through as consistently as
in this score. The lyrics alone are the stuff of legend, with
fantastic wordplay (“Mister Harris, plutocrat/Wants to give
my cheek a pat/If the Harris pat/Means a Paris hat/Bébé!”),
puns (“If she says your behavior is heinous/Kick her right
in the ‘Coriolanus’) and double entendre (“She gave new meaning
to the leaning tower of Pisa”).
As Katharine/Lilli Vanessi in the musicalized Taming of
the Shrew that forms the core of this show, Lisa Vroman
sings the hilarious “I Hate Men,” one of those classic Porter
numbers that tops itself as it goes along. Not content to
trust to the wit of the piece, director Diane Paulus has Vroman
begin the number with a kind of voodoo doll with which to
inflict one of the endless crotch-grabbings that infect this
production, and go on to display an artillery of torture devices,
eventually swinging nunchaku as she sings.
This kind of over-the-top foolishness detracts from the piece.
Sure, it gets the cheap gallery laughs, but is that why we’re
in this business?
Be prepared for plenty along these lines, including a bizarre,
needless op-art setting for Petruchio’s house and an incompetent,
unnecessary rewrite of the last stanza of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
But see this production for the incredible dancing of Damian
Norfleet, who dominates “Too Darn Hot,” and the wonderful
work of Courtney Romano, who, as the flighty Lois Lane/Bianca,
practically steals the whole show, bringing new life to the
Romano is effectively paired with David Larsen (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio)
throughout the show, and Larsen himself does a showstopping
turn singing and dancing “Bianca” in the second act.
Lilli Vanessi’s foil is the egotistical Fred Graham/Petruchio,
sung beautifully by Brad Little. The best number of the show
is his act two reprise of “So in Love,” which, for some incredible
reason, includes no superfluous business. But both Little
and Vroman lack the larger-than-life qualities those roles
The production screams for better dance. Choreographer Darren
Lee has the unenviable task of getting non-dancing singers
to move, but even the more accomplished scenes lacked the
conviction of committed movement.
Making a welcome return to Robert Russell Bennett’s original
orchestrations, the orchestra sounded terrific under David
Charles Abell’s more than able direction. If only they were
backing a concert version instead.