That grand musical "Kiss me, Kate," with book by Bella and Samuel Spewack, and music and lyrics by that genius, Cole Porter, is being offered by the Reston Community Players.
For anyone not sure what to expect from a 1940s musical, it was a time when shows contained one hit song after another, exciting plots, clever dialogue, and fabulous parts for the performers.
At Reston, in a very uneven production, there are some shining lights. This is a big show, not just in the largeness of the whole, but in the richness of the parts. It is therefore difficult to say how much responsibility lies at the feet of director John F. Duncan, who must have had to delegate a great deal of authority just to get this show on, and how much rests with his assistants.
Briefly, the cast of characters is also performing a musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," and the offstage life of the characters does infuse their performance in the onstage musical as events become more complex and heated offstage. Thus, everyone in the show has at least two jobs to do. One, to appear like a group of accomplished touring players -- performers doing a job -- and, two, to be the performers themselves offstage. At Reston, the distinction is not drawn.
Much of this is due to a large supporting chorus of men and women who have enough difficulty executing the simplest choreography, whose faces betray a concentration focused on concerns so basic that their likelihood of ever reaching performance level is remote.
The number "Too Darn Hot" must have been breathtaking at this show's Broadway debut. It is the first time the performers, whom we have seen doing some kind of Shakespearean mode dancing onstage, suddenly whip out their tap shoes and do a marvelous, loose, suggestive spoof. At Reston, the chorus described above supports this number, and the spirit, both sensual and witty, demanded by this number is not there. It is only realized by Mike Baker as Bill, who is splendid throughout the show and surely deserves a medal for playing generously to more vacant faces than any man in recent memory.
Mary Greanias, who plays Lilly and Kate, has a beautiful voice, and delights the ear constantly in "I Hate Men" and most of all in her "So In Love," after which one wonders again if there is a better love song.
Bob Patterson, who plays Graham and Petruchio, is also fine, his "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" is as delectable as his own version of "So In Love" is touching.
It is a pity that the dressing room sets for those two leading players are placed so far upstage, although all in all Ray Reinhold Schilke has designed a remarkable set, and if anything, provided director Duncan with many opportunities he has not taken advantage of.
In the persons of the gangsters Joe Ambrosio and Max "Hands" O'Hagen, played by Don Paul Smith and Mark Yeager respectively, the problem of too little directorial help can be seen quite clearly. Those two gentlemen perform well but hardly notably for almost two acts. Then, they perform "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." The choreography is perfect, the phrasing exquisite, and the spirit sublime. It brings the house down several times and the show is worth going to see for this number alone.
However, because credit for choreography is given to three persons, Maureen Daly, John F. Duncan, and Meghan Schreiber, one does not know who is responsible for that brilliant work or who is responsible for the sadly pedestrian quality of the rest.
Carrie Kennedy plays Lois Lane and also Bianca, and director Duncan has served her worst of all. Kennedy's role is the standard '40s second leading lady: the not-so-dumb, luscious girl, who attracts men as honey does bears. Kennedy's costume, hair and makeup as offstage performer is one of the least attractive ever devised. Elsewhere, in group costumes on stage for scenes in the Shakespeare musical, for example, costume designer Anne Vandenberg reveals a nice eye for lively colors, though here and there she has chosen to case an overabundant figure in satin -- never a good choice.
Onstage in her Elizabethan garb in Padua in "Tom, Dick or Harry," Kennedy is pretty and hilarious. It is most unfair that she should look unappealing when she sings two of the show's greatest songs, "Why Can't You Behave?" and "Always True to You in My Fashion," so well.
"Kiss me, Kate," Reston Community Center, Colts Neck Road, Reston. Through Saturday. For reservations, call 703-476-1111.