Friday, November 16, 2001
"Another op'ning, another show": Opening Night with the Savoyards
Modern theater may have been born on the day Shakespeare's first Hamlet ordered a group of traveling actors to "hold the mirror up to nature": to make us look at ourselves honestly and realistically. Four centuries later, that charge resonated in Cole Porter's particular gift to musical theater: he made us look at ourselves with an eyebrow raised at sentiment and morality. "In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking/Now, heaven knows, anything goes!" He made bad behavior as effervescent as champagne.
So he does in Kiss Me, Kate, his musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare's mirror reflects the acrimonious relationship between divorced couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, the threat of gangsters, Bill Calhoun's gambling addiction, and Lois Lane's gold-digging. Here, those troubles become a way to laugh at ourselves. There's a word for that sophistication.
That is also the word for the Savoyard Light Opera Company. The SLOC shows true esprit de corps; every cast member supports and plays to and with every other, and the result is a polish that would make Cole Porter proud.
Talent? There's talent in every area. The lighting, sets and costumes are a pleasure for the eye, and they functioned smoothly in the frequent scene changes in what could be, in less skillful hands, a very cumbersome show. When the technical aspects of the production dovetail in their designs, make sense, and move with invisible ease, the quality of the show and the experience of actors and audience alike are immeasurably enhanced.
We all think Cole Porter's familiar songs are easily singable, and we hum our way out of the theater in something close to basic Eb. The fact of the matter is that this is tough music. Baritones must hit tenor notes; songs are pitched right smack in the breaks in women's voices. Under the able direction of Fred Frabotta, who led a very competent 20-piece orchestra, the ensemble of Kiss Me, Kate did full justice to their music. There are some wonderful voices in there, and the leading actors are worthy of such a fine chorus. Donna (Lilli Vanessi/Katherine) DeWitt's fine lyric soprano never wavered, and her musical interpretations hit the mark every time. Craig (Fred Graham/Petruchio) Howard has a rich and shaded baritone. He is less confident of his high notes, but they are there in full, as he proved in his gorgeous reprise of the exquisite "So In Love." Johanna (Lois Lane/Bianca) Perri handled her "belter" numbers pertly and brightly, and Chris (Billy Calhoun/Lucentio) Mack consistently demonstrated his ability to put a song over with style. Corey Jackson and Tedford Armistead as Gunmen 1 and 2 were effortlessly comfortable and endlessly inventive in their roles. Who cared if the song was too long and didn't fit into the plot? We all loved it.
Any problems? Small ones. Lois Lane's "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True to You in My Fashion" are intended for Bill Calhoun, but in this production they were directed at the audience. This allowed Johanna Perri to play to us, but the songs made less sense. Perhaps too many scene changes were covered by "Why Can't You Behave." Could we not have heard "Wunderbar" or "So In Love" a little more often?
The Savoyard Light Opera Company understands entertainment. And as cast member Carolyn Armistead wrote in the Mosquito last week, this is an especially good time for comic relief.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito