Circle Theatre’s ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ turns up the heat



The ensemble of Circle Theatre’s “Kiss Me, Kate” sweats it out in the big act two production number, “Too Darn Hot.”

My friend Betsy invited me to see her in Circle Theatre’s production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, the classic play-within-a-musical that follows the lives of egotistical actor-producer Fred Graham and his temperamental co-star and ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, as they reunite to appear in a musicalized production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

I guess it’s been a while since I’ve attended Circle Theatre (last time was their The Who’s Tommy), because they’ve changed venues — the same venue where I saw Village Player’s Sunday in the Park with George.

I’m glad they moved, as the significantly wider stage allows choreographer Kevin Bellie to go full-throttle. Really, the dancing in this production is among the most polished and textured I’ve seen in non-equity theatre. Bellie’s work by the young, energetic ensemble is the star of this show.

As for the actual stars, Jenny Sophia makes for a very satisfying Lilli, possessing a fine, clear soprano (and looking a touch like Barbara Parkins in Valley of the Dolls). Though she could ramp up the diva in her initial scenes. As Fred, Andy Baldeschweiler certainly looks the part, and acts it just fine. But he’s no Alfred Drake or Brian Stokes Mitchell in the vocal department. In fact, far from it. Maybe a bit painful at times.

When I saw only four players listed as the “band,” I was a little concerned. But the quartet of musicians they’ve rounded up are phenomenal, and carry Porter’s score along with zest. I know strong musicianship when I hear it, and the trumpet player and drummer, in particular, are fan-bloody-tastic. Not a lot of people realize it, but a bad drummer in a pit band can undermine a musical. The guy playing drums here (I lost my program, sorry!) is a real pro.

So, aside from a few minor quibbles, this production was real joy. But hurry — it closes Jan. 31! So “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and get your tickets now!

I’m trying something new for 2011 — a CTA Index Rating. I’m going to rate each show on a ten-point scale. This way, I will be able to more effectively track my theatre-going habits and history.

CTA Index Rating: 8 (Two solid points knocked off for a less-than-acceptable performance from the leading man.)

2 thoughts on “Circle Theatre’s ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ turns up the heat

  1. Bob, thanks for the great review! (I’m part of the “young ensemble” mentioned above) Just one thing, the whole cast is under professional contract and we get paid for our work so I think calling us “non-professional” is incorrect. “Non-equity” is more accurate. Thanks again for coming out to Oak Park and reviewing us!

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