BY SANDY STAGGS
Tryon Little Theatre unfurled one it’s most lavish productions to date last weekend in a historic dual celebration that marked the 70th anniversary of both the company and the classic musical comedy “Kiss Me Kate.”
And what better way to commemorate the occasion than with Cole Porter and Shakespeare?
This play by Sam and Bella Spewack neatly intertwines the backstage antics of two couples on opening night of a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew” and the on-stage and wacky presentation of the show in Baltimore.
Fred Graham (Chris Tinkler) is the director, producer and lead (Petruchio) of the musical and his movie star ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Wendi Arms) plays the title character Katherine. The couple is constantly at odds on the first anniversary of their divorce, but clearly the romantic spark still burns.
The other pair of lovers is actress Lois Lane (Susie Kocher) who plays younger sister Bianca in the musical and whose heart belongs to Bill Calhoun (Guy Winker), a handsome and charming man with a terrible gambling addiction leads to a $10,000 debt owed to a local mobster.
The plot of “Shrew” – a wealthy merchant and his efforts to marry off his obstinate eldest daughter (the shrew) so his youngest daughter Bianca can wed her true love – cleverly weaves in an out of the real-life backstage romances, as does Porter’s bouncy and exemplary score.
Ms. Arms effortlessly treads between the feisty ex-wife with and the shrew impervious to men and love, as she so winsomely demonstrates in “I Hate Men.” An astute leading man, Graham shines with wit and nuance as the determined suitor and scores in the vocal department with songs like “Where is the Life That Late I Led?”
But the star turn here belongs to Ms. Kocher who razzle dazzles throughout the show as the nasally-voiced ingénue from her spunky “Tom, Dick or Harry” to “Always True to You in My Fashion.”
And hats off to Stan Peal and Lou Buttino as two hapless thugs (among a myriad of other bit parts) who literally steal the show with their outstanding and comical rendition of “Brush Up on Your Shakespeare.” Bravo, fellows!
Despite a slightly bland and muddled opening number (“Another Op’nin’), longtime TLT director Dan Harvey guides this production featuring lots of familiar faces and staples of the Tryon theatre scene, with a gentle and experienced hand and at a swift pace, never squandering an opportunity to capitalize on the hilarious comedic situations in this stellar script.
The production values are first-rate (scenic design by Lindsey Moore and glorious costumes by Michelle Fleming, Sherry Carter, Gail Muir, Kathy Madea and Robyn Edgar) and Missy Fincher is choreographer.
Pam McNeil is music director and conductor of the live orchestra (Ben Chumley and Dell Morgan on keyboards, Barbara Tilly on flute, Jamie Kirby on trumpet, Linda Lee Reynolds on string bass and Lee Holroyd on drums.
“Kiss Me Kate” has closed but Tryon Little Theatre will be holding auditions for its next production “Almost, Maine” on Sunday, March 4 at 3 p.m. and Monday, March 5 at 6 p.m. Show dates are April 26-May 6.
And to experience more of “The Taming of the Shrew,” check out the gender-bending version starring Jim Huber as Katherine and Sarah Hurley as Petruchio at the Drive-By Shakespeare production on Monday, March 5 at the Growler Haus in Spartanburg. This play is presented by Growler Haus, Sparkle City Improv and the Proud Mary Theatre Company. Tickets are $5 at the door.