Brushed Up and Kissable — Hartford’s Kate is Wunderbar

I always say: you can’t go wrong with Cole Porter. I mean, you can, if you’re stupid, but it’s pretty damn hard. Hartford Stage takes Kiss Me, Kate, arguably Porter’s best musical, and gives it a full-throated production that is devilishly clever and full of all the wit and rhythm that assures us that the Pride of Peru, Indiana remains the best there ever was.

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Mike McGowan, center in fantastic hat, leads a bravura ensemble in Hartford Stage’s production of Cole Porter’s masterful Kiss Me, Kate. |Image: broadwayworld/supplied.

Kiss Me, Kate is allegedly based on the backstage and onstage antics of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne — “the Fabulous Lunts” — when they played The Taming of the Shrew in the 1930s. The apocrypha goes that Saint Subber worked on the Lunts’ Shrew and took the idea of a feuding theatrical couple to Samuel and Bella Spewack, who wrote the book. Subber, who produced Kate on Broadway and made his name producing Neil Simon plays, swore that the story was true, but the Spewacks disputed it.

Either way, it matters not. Kiss Me, Kate is as inventive and as captivating today as it was on opening night in 1948. Tony Award-winnng director Darko Tresnjak knows how to keep a show moving and also how to mine the sly Porter lyrics for every comic nugget. Tresnjak’s set is cleanly and inventively designed by Alexander Dodge and seamlessly transitions between onstage and backstage worlds just as it should.

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Megan Sikora as Lois and Tyler Hanes as Bill stand out in a tremendous cast. Sikora’s comic timing is a perfect counterpoint to Hanes’ smooth sensational dancing. |Image: Cloe Poisson

One of the things about Kate is that it’s a mistake to put all of your emphasis on the two leads. As Fred/Petruchio, Mike McGowan gives a terrific, open performance — so much better, in my opinion, than the overly-operatic take of Brian Stokes Mitchell in the last Broadway revival — and Anastasia Barzee’s Lilli/Kate is his match, but the show would sag quickly if the only substance in the play was the leads bickering, making up, and then falling out again and generally trying to play facsimiles of the Lunts.

In many ways, Kate should — and this Kate does — belong to the second leads. Tyler Hanes as Bill/Lucentio and Megan Sikora as Lois/Bianca waste no time in simply waltzing away with the show. Yes, McGowan gets those fun alliterative Porter tongue twisters (I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua and Where is the Life That Late I Led?) and Barzee gets to showcase her pipes with So In Love and I Am Ashamed That Women are So Simple, but straight out of the gate, Hanes and Sikora get the stage to themselves with Why Can’t You Behave? and they own it from then on; even before Hanes practically stops the show in the hilarious Tom, Dick or Harry — or any other time there’s a dance break; he’s sublime as he executes Peggy Hickey’s terrific choreography.

As we get into the second act, Sikora gives a tremendous rendition of one of my all-time favorite showtunes, Always True to You in My Fashion, which is such a classic cheeky Porter invention, but Tresnjak’s staging of the nimble Hanes appearing and disappearing in every conceivable corner of the stage doubles the enjoyment and Hanes doesn’t get a chance to breathe before launching into the whimsical Bianca (bee-ANK-uh, for those uninitiated).

No one hits anything even approaching a wrong note here. Everything is on the money. A couple of additional shoutouts: James T. Lane is phenomenal leading the ensemble in the Act II opener; Brendan Averett and Joel Blum are sublimely ridiculous as the gangsters who assay that sensational piece of Porter nonsense, Brush Up Your Shakespeare; and someone needs to give Fabio Toblini a handful of awards for his brilliant costumes — especially Petruchio’s hats, which are some of the most hilarious pieces of millinery I’ve seen onstage in a long, long time.

All in all, this Kiss Me, Kate: too darn hot.

It plays through June 14 in Hartford before sitting down for a month in San Diego at the Old Globe (July 1 — Aug. 2), following the same path Tresnjak took with Gentleman’s Guide. Is Broadway next? Here’s hoping. See it.

ODDS & ENDS
Lately I’ve noticed that in the decade that I’ve been out of the business, the American theatre has forgotten every single solitary damn thing I taught it about marketing. I could be lured back, if you smile pretty and promise not to be too naughty. Just saying.

I have to say that I was disappointed in Elizabeth Williamson’s dramaturgical notes in the playbill. In this day and age, I think you should contextualize the Lunts more than just referring to them as “one of the greatest husband and wife acting teams of all time.” Look up “lavender marriage.” Then look up Cole and Linda Porter while you’re at it. Finally, Saint Subber and Monty Clift. That’s your theatrical history brush up for the day. Title it: A Gay Old Time in Padua!

Finally, as we were leaving the show, I turned to my significant other and said, “Jesus, I would give my eye teeth to dance like Tyler Hanes.” Truth. He just put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Maybe in your next life.” Damn. Cold comfort can hurt!

Can We Learn Anything from the Cancelled High School Production of ‘Spamalot?’

Two thumbs way up high to Howard Sherman for his excellent op/ed on Slate. It’s mind-numbing to me that stuff like this still happens in America but, you know what? It happens every single day. There are far more controversial things in the American musical theatre canon than the “gay themes” in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Good grief.

Another example of senior leadership being completely out of touch with young people. And you thought there was a “generation gap” in the 60s and 70s! Ha!

Sherman ends his essay thusly:

Students return to school in South Williamsport today with the false impression that their drama director provoked an unfounded controversy. What they don’t know is that their principal and superintendent assert that LGBTQ life is unsuitable for families to see, that their parents might be “afraid” of “small kids” seeing gay relationships even in a broadly comic setting, and that there are concerns about attendance at such a show because the material is “risqué.” The students also don’t know that their principal believes that LGBTQ representation might force some of them to make decisions about their personal beliefs, which is presumably part of education and maturation. There are important lessons still to be taught in South Williamsport, but only if the school administration and the community learn them first.

via Spamalot: Pennsylvania school cancels production because of “homosexual themes.”.

How “A Christmas Story” Kept Peter Billingsley Normal

How “A Christmas Story” Kept Peter Billingsley Normal.

A great piece on Billingsley, who, as an adult never went all Dana Plato at it. Also, it’s nice to see him embrace this iconic role. More than embrace it, he’s been a producer on the successful musical that has played on Broadway and across the country over the last several years.

For the record, I’ve seen the musical version twice — in 2012 on Broadway and in 2013 at Madison Square Garden. I love every bit of it.

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Peter Billingsley. |Image: Ramona Rosales/BuzzFeed

Catching Up With The Multi-Talented Billy Magnussen

InDepth InterView: Billy Magnussen Talks Reserved For Rondee UK Gigs, INTO THE WOODS Movie, VANYA, 50 SHADES & More.

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Billy Magnussen brilliantly played the dim Spike in a Tony-nominated turn on Broadway earlier this year. He played Signourney Weaver’s love interest. Some gals have all the luck! | Image: broadwayworld.com

Good in-depth interview by Pat Cerasaro on Broadway World with Billy Magnussen. He’s one of my favorite interview subjects of late because he comes across as completely genuine — and more than a little bit quirky.

He’s shooting the new Into The Woods movie right now and he’s hot off his Tony-nominated turn in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s exceptional play and one of the funniest afternoons I’ve ever spent at the theatre.

Magnussen is certainly easy on the eyes — just as he was back in the day when he played Casey Hughes on As The World Turns where I first ran across him — but he’s more than just another pretty face. His band is damn good, too. Here’s a link to the iTunes pages for Reserved For Rondee.

Damon Intrabartolo, “Bare” Composer, Dead at 39

from Broadway World:

Damon Intrabartolo, composer of the hit off-Broadway musical Bare and a variety of film scores, died on August 13 in Phoenix, AZ. No cause of death has been reported. Intrabartolo was 39 years old.

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Jon Hartmere, Jr. (l), and Intrabartolo at an opening of “Bare.” |Image via broadwayworld.com

Intrabartolo wrote Bare, a musical about two gay Catholic school students grappling with their forbidden relationship, with co-book writer and lyricist Jon Hartmere. The musical originally premiered at the Hudson Theater in Los Angeles, CA, on October 14, 2000. It ran through February 25, 2001, before transferring to the American Theatre of Actors in New York City in the spring of 2004. A new, revamped version of the musical premiered at off-Broadway’s New World Stages on December 9, 2012, where it played through February 3, 2013.

A frequent collaborator with John Ottman, Intrabartolo was the orchestrator and conductor for many film scores, including In Good Company, American Dreamz, Bubble Boy, Pumpkin, Lake Placid, Halloween H20, Hide and Seek, Fantastic Four, Superman Returns, Eight Legged Freaks, X2: X-Men United, Gothika and Cellular. Intrabartolo also orchestrated and conducted the Dreamgirlsunderscore composed by Stephen Trask.

In addition to Bare, Intrabartolo composed the musicals Plop andOdyssey of the Bulimic Orphans. He was in the process of composing a new musical called Ride… a pop fable before his death.

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Jonah Platt and Payson Lewis star in the new Los Angeles production of “Bare,” set to open just after Labor Day 2013. |Promotional Image/glory|struck productions.

I must say, I was quite shocked by this news. I discovered him, like so many others, through the marvel that is Bare. I was so captivated by the original score that when Stafford Arima and Jon Hartmere reimagined it late last year Off-Broadway, I jumped at the chance to see it. Sadly, I did not like it very much, but was still glad that I got to be a part of it. A new production of Intrabartolo’s original concept is set to open next week in Los Angeles.

“Submissions Only” – How’d I Miss This Great Web Series Until Now??

I am completely late to the table on this one, but if you are at all interested in backstage shenanigans, watch Submissions Only, the Web series created by Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger.

“Backstage shenanigans” really doesn’t do this series justice in the slightest. It’s ostensibly about a struggling casting agent and his friend, a struggling actress, but it’s a warm, witty, often laugh-out-loud funny look at the relationships — and indignities — that occur backstage and in the wings.

For any of us who are, or have been, “in the business,” you know every one of these people. The last show like this, for me, was the Canadian series Slings & Arrows. For those amongst us who have not spent any time backstage, watch it for the cameos and great writing. There’s hardly a Broadway name that doesn’t get a couple of minutes of face time. I mean, they got Chita Rivera, Harvey Fierstein and Beth Leavel, for God’s sakes!

Wetherhead and Keenan-Bolger are no slouches as Broadway names either. You may have seen her in Legally Blonde or The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee or him in Mary Poppins, Seussical or until recently as Crutchie in Newsies. The “sizzle reel” below is linked straight to YouTube. Watch the entire series at www.submissionsonly.com. You’ll be glad you did.