Caitlin McKeckney and Joseph Smith star in Night Blue Theater's production of the Cole Porter musical "Kiss Me, Kate" at the Athenaeum Theater. Photos by Drew Peterson.
Some classic shows can be enjoyed time after time without losing their appeal, and "Kiss Me, Kate" is certainly one of those. Boasting Cole Porter’s greatest score along with a hilarious show-within-a-show adaptation of Shakespeare’s "The Taming of the Shrew," "Kate" is among the best of the vintage "book musicals" of the 1940’s. And Night Blue Theater is doing it full justice in a lavish and entertaining production that is a joy from start to finish. This troupe has been making the rounds of the southwest suburbs for the past two years and is currently making a welcome pilgrimage to Chicago, where "Kate" is winding up a 2-week residency on the Athenaeum Theater’s main stage. For $25 a ticket, you more than get your money’s worth, from the sparkling live orchestra and terrific, legitimately trained voices of the leads, to a polished, professional staging by Artistic Director David Walters.
Walters was fortunate in obtaining the services of Caitlin McKeckney and Joseph Smith, both armed with impressive opera and stage credentials, for the leading roles. As the feuding stars and their equally hot-tempered onstage counterparts, McKeckney and Smith knock one out of the park with their exquisite singing and top-notch acting. The delicate looking McKeckney makes a divine Lilli/Katherine, hurling herself into the demanding physical comedy like a heavyweight contender. And Smith’s robust Fred/Petruchio makes a brash and stalwart sparring partner. McKeckney comes up with some particularly hilarious and inventive touches in her numbers "I Hate Men" and the feminist-recoiling finale, "I Am Ashamed that Women are So Simple," while Smith offers one of the most entertaining versions of "Where is the Life that Late I Led" this viewer has seen.
Unlike Light Opera Works’ recent production, a faithful if slightly musty recreation of the 1948 original, Night Blue takes its cues from Broadway’s most recent revival. Laura Zettergren’s lively choreography, Patricia Rinkenberger’s sturdy musical direction, and Christine Szarley’s soaring orchestra are among the highlights of an exceedingly polished production, whose only minor flaws are an occasional sound feedback and sputter. A couple of clever casting tricks, which I won’t spoil, add to a memorable rendering of this musical classic.
Amanda Squibb is deliciously bubbly as the flirtatious ingénue Lois/Bianca, while Erik Labanauskas is extremely dashing as her gambler beau Bill/Lucentio. Matt Morales and J.R. Wilson chew the scenery with delightful abandon as the Shakespeare spouting thugs, who arrive backstage to collect a debt and wind up falling under the spell of the limelight. The whole show, in fact is a love letter to the theatre, from the rousing opener "Another Op’nin’, Another Show," which energetically awakens an empty stage through the memorable innuendos and double entendres of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" to the show-stopping "Too Darn Hot." Night Blue gets it all right and sends its audience out bearing a smile that only admirers of classic musical comedy will appreciate.
Night Blue Theater presents "Kiss Me, Kate" on August 10 and 11 at 8:00 p.m. and August 12 at 3:00 p.m. at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport in Chicago. The musical runs 3 hours with intermission. Tickets are $20 to $25 and are available by calling (312) 902-1500 or at www.ticketmaster.com. August 10th-12th