Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Motown the Musical
The 1948 musical by Cole Porter (music and lyrics) and Samuel and Bella Spewack (book) cleverly interweaves a production of a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with the parallel dramatics going on backstage. Fred Graham (Douglas Sills) is producing and directing the musical-within-a-musical while also playing Petruchio; his Katherine is Lilli Vanessi (Christine Sherrill), a stage and film starand, until recently, Fred's wife. A strong current still runs between Fred and Lilli but, as with their characters, they're a combative couple: he's overbearing and she's not going to let him walk over her.
Sills is tall, commanding, has a ringing voice, and isn't afraid to look like an idiot on occasion. Sherrill brings beauty, self-possession, a soaring soprano voice, and a willingness to do whatever she needs to do. Singly and together, they're perfect for their double roles.
Just as accomplished are Robyn Hurder as Lois Lane, a nightclub singer Fred has cast as Bianca, and Clyde Alves as Bill Calhoun, who plays opposite Lois as Lucentio. Their romance is also difficult in that Lois is faithful to Bill "in her fashion" but still enjoys profitable flings with wealthier men, and Bill loves Lois but seems to love gambling more. They are both amazingly flexible dancers who make the most of Michele Lynch's dynamic choreography.
Bob Ari and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod are charming as two gangsters who fall in love with Shakespeare's language and get the 11 o'clock number, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." The entire ensemble sparkles in the larger dance numbers, especially the sultry and propulsive "Too Darn Hot."
In keeping with the period of the show, Paul has worked with scenic designer James Noone to create an intricate trompe de l'oeil on-and-offstage setting. The faux "stage curtain" comes down, performers do a crossover number in front of the curtain while the scenery changes behind it, but it's all part of the design. Alejo Vietti's costumes, Paul Miller's atmospheric lighting design and the 11 musicians, conducted by James Cunningham, contribute to the luscious overall effect.
Shakespeare Theatre Company