***CRITIC'S PICK*** KISS ME KATE
at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
Too darn hot? Not on your life. Director-choreographer Dan Mojica’s sizzling mounting of the 1948 Broadway gem feels exactly right. There’s serendipitous magic in the casting and dazzling artistry in the designs. Top this off with Mojica’s showstopping production numbers (especially the exuberant “Another Op’nin, Another Show” and the scorching “Too Darn Hot”) and music director Alby Potts’ exquisite treatment of the evergreen score, and you have a Shakespeare-inspired romp that would have delighted said Bard of Avon.
Collaborating with librettists Sam and Bella Spewack, Cole Porter fashioned a marvelous show-within-a-show conceit, giving us a double dose of battle-of-the-sexes comedy. A theatre company is putting on a touring musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Temperamental diva Lili (Michelle Duffy) is playing Shakespeare’s hellcat heroine, Katherine, while her pompous ex-husband, actor-director Fred (Kevin Bailey), takes the role of Katherine’s chauvinistic and combative suitor, Petruchio. It’s as if a 1940s Hollywood screwball farce was mixed in a blender with delightful bits of Shakespearean story elements and text. Porter’s lush and lovely songs are beautifully integrated into this framework. Put it all together, and you have musical-comedy bliss.
Despite its myriad virtues, this production wouldn’t be half as successful without its scintillating lead performances. Bailey commands the stage with stellar authority, belting out his bombastic songs with bravado and mining every ounce of humor from both of his roles. His athletic rendition of “Where Is the Life I Led?” bristles with energy and sharp wit. The magnificent Duffy is a perfect counterpart, singing numbers such as “So in Love” gorgeously and matching Bailey’s intensity, ensuring hilariously robust skirmishes. When she takes charge of “I Hate Men,” combining sexy femininity with the physicality and ferocious determination of a champion boxer, she elicits well-deserved cheers. The supporting cast is likewise exceptional: Lesli Margherita’s adorable bimbo Lois/Bianca; John Bisom as her ne’er-do-well suitor Bill/Lucentio; Jeff Griggs’ sidesplitting take on Lois’ fiancé, narcissistic General Howell; and Herschel Sparber and Jeffrey Landman as hilariously benign thugs, nailing the great vaudevillian number “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”
Design accomplishments are sublime, particularly Christopher Beyries’ colorful and charming sets; uncredited costumes, based on Martin Pakledinaz’s original designs; and Darrell Clark’s marvelously textured lighting. Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities’ exceptional mounting of this classic raises the bar for future local productions.
Presented by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Sep. 29-Oct. 14. (310) 372-4477. www.civiclightopera.com.