by Clark Groome
There’s so much to enjoy in the Act II production of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” in Ambler that I almost regret reporting that the show has significant weaknesses; “almost regret reporting,” but here we go:
Tops among the positives is Porter’s magnificent score, which includes “Why Can’t You Behave?” “Wundebar,” “So in Love,” “Too Darn Hot,” “From This Moment on,” the clever and witty “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and one of the three or four best opening numbers in all American musicals, “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.”
Those great songs are well sung by a musically talented cast led by Jennie Eisenhower (Lilli/Kate) and Sean Thompson (Fred/Petruchio). They are ably supported by Mindy Dougherty (Lois/Bianca), Zachary Chiero (Bill/Lucentio) and especially by Joey Abramowicz and Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton as Gremio and Hortensio.
Peter Bisgaier and Sonny Leo, not the world’s greatest singers, do a fine job as the two gangsters when they decide they need to brush up their Shakespeare.
Musical Director Michael Pacifico is an adequate musical accompanist for the singers. Jordan Dobson turns in one of the most impressive performances of the evening. Not only does he sing well, but he also occasionally plays the clarinet, sax or flute, an addition that gives depth and excitement to the music.
Designers Colin McIlvaine (sets), James Leitner (lighting) and Larry D. Fowler Jr. (sound) give good support to the Act II production, which runs through June 26.
That’s the good news.
On the other hand, Peter Reynolds direction and Maggie Anderson’s choreography, while appropriate at times, range from the predictable to the banal and overwrought.
Sam and Bella Spewack’s book, a marriage of Fred and Lilli’s offstage relationship with that of Petruchio and Kate in Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” doesn’t need to be presented in boldface, as is done here. It works well without all the overdone scenery-chewing that’s far too often the case in this production.
The dancing is OK but executed by a group that is clearly more comfortable singing than dancing. The result is choreography which is so lacking in imagination that it adds little to the show.
Jeff Sturdivant’s costumes, appropriately colorful, are, in the “Shrew” scenes, far too tight and revelatory on the male cast members.
“Kiss Me, Kate” is a treasure. On balance the Act II production is musically worthy but less so dramatically. Most of the elements for something quite wonderful are present but, alas, frequently mishandled.
For tickets call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org