Next Act's Kiss Me, Kate full of spirited performances
KISS ME, KATE
Next Act 1994.
Directed by John J. Bellizzi III '94.
Words and Music by Cole Porter.
Book by Sam and Bella Spewack.
Starring Erin E. McCoy '95, Walter E. Babiec '94, Ranjini Srikantiah '95, and Victor F. Holmes '95.
Next House first floor lounge.
April 7-9.By J. Michael Andresen
Next Act 1994 opened and closed last weekend with a charming rendition of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate. Though it was clearly an amateur production with a first-time director, the energy and enthusiasm of the ensemble overcame this to deliver a truly delightful performance.
The vocal talent of the cast was impressive considering that everyone was drawn from Next House alone. Kiss Me, Kate is essentially a musical revue celebrating Cole Porter's songwriting, and he would have been proud of the efforts of the cast and Erin McCoy '95, who doubled as vocal director.
Among the vocalists, McCoy and Ranjini Srikantiah '95 were particularly outstanding. Srikantiah sang "Always True to You (in my Fashion)" with all the devilish sweetness that Porter intended, adding emphasis with her flirtatious and seductive smiles. McCoy put plenty of oomph into her part, making herself clearly understood with an impassioned "I Hate Men." She almost had me feeling ashamed for my gender, so realistic was her animosity.
The male leads were mostly solid, but sketchy at times. Walter E. Babiec '94 sang very nicely but tended to fade out in his lower range. To balance this, he seemed to overcompensate and sing too loudly in his mid-range, giving some of the songs a ridiculously large dynamic spectrum. Victor Holmes '95 sang sweetly throughout, but failed to excite the audience as Srikantiah and McCoy were able to do.
McCoy also had one of the more challenging parts to act, and she met the challenge nicely. The plot of Kiss Me, Kate loosely follows the plot of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. A "play within a play" is presented as an acting troupe performs The Taming of the Shrew, while the backstage antics parallel its action and characters. McCoy plays the "shrew" both on stage and backstage: Her challenge is to make clear when her on-stage anger is her character's and when it is her own. Part of this distinction is noted in the script, but McCoy did an amazing job imparting the subtle differences to the audience. It was always crystal clear when she was angry at the Shakespearean Petruchio and when she was angry at her ex-husband who played that character.
Petruchio (Babiec), on the other hand, didn't act his anger very well at all. Babiec's face was always a wonderful indicator of his emotions. Pain and anguish were evident in his eyes, and his pursed mouth clued the audience in to the severity of his condition. Babiec's glib delivery, on the other hand, left much to be desired; he read his lines with no dramatic pauses whatsoever. This affected his ability to embody the intense emotions of his role but also affected his comedic timing, which was off through the whole performance.
Holmes had the opposite problem. His delivery was fine, but his facial expression didn't change throughout the evening from his initial faraway stare and dopey grin. "I'm sorry," he apologized to Lois (Srikantiah) with the vapid grin. Her retort of "If only you meant it" didn't seem to faze him. He kept on grinning. Holmes has a very pleasant face and the grin was a very nice dopey grin, but it just wasn't ubiquitously appropriate.
The show was stolen, however, by John C. Hansen '94 and Willy S. Ziminsky '94, the most affable gangsters this side of The Godfather. With felt hats and generic gangster accents, their haughty yet simplistic interpretation of their characters was perfect, and their rendition of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," a collection of puns on Shakespearean titles, was hilarious.
Much of the hilarity of the singing numbers was due to the impeccable choreography provided by Rebecca A. Scramlin '94. The choreography was perhaps the most impressive aspect of the entire production. The dancing had an appropriate amount of vaudeville in it, but it wasn't overly flowery, which is a trap that is all too easy to fall into when following Porter's lyrics and melodies. Scramlin found the perfect balance between the two extremes, offering dance that was visually exciting but not sickeningly cute.
Overall, John J. Belizzi III '94 did a wonderful job in his directorial debut. A few gaffes would have been avoided had he been more seasoned, but these were few and rather far between. In any case, he was able to tap into the youthful energy of Next House, generating a wholly entertaining show.