Berkeley’s Youth Musical Theater Commons performed the 1940’s musical Kiss Me Kate. There were four performances with two different casts, spanning from April 8 to the 14th. The performances took place in the auditorium at Willard Jr. High School.
The cast consisted of seventh, eighth and ninth graders from various BUSD schools.
Within the first five minutes I decided that the production was a flop, partly because the microphones were stuffy and partly because the actors were slurring their speech. Is it customary to slam a few shots before your stage-cue? I was so lost in the dialogue that I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a night. I had a ten-inch stack of undone assignments waiting for me on my nightstand, but I was inexplicably intrigued by the charisma of the actors. As the audio quality improved, the story began to take shape, and I was hooked.
Kiss Me Kate was written by Cole Porter and made it's Broadway debut in 1948, and hit the silver screen in 1954. The film was originally released in 3-D. The play is about a troupe of actors doing a musical rendition of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The stars of The Taming of the Shrew are: actress Lilli Vanessi, played by Nayeli Adorador-Knudsen, and actor Fred Graham, played by Gabe Crane. Fred is also director and producer of the play. Coincidentally, Fred and Lilli are former lovers, divorced in fact. The plot thickens when Lilli threatens to run off with her new boyfriend who's a big man on Capitol Hill.
Lois Lane, played by Emily Fox, co-stars in The Taming of the Shrew alongside her love interest Bill, played by Owen McDougall.
In addition, McDougall and Ginny Hallam play two gangsters who become strangely involved in the production.
As you might imagine, the characters' offstage personalities and relationships start sneaking their way into the performance. Comedy ensues.
The obvious point of Kiss Me Kate is to bring Fred and Lilli back together, despite their quarrels and side romances.
Gabe Crane was so fabulous that by the end of the production I had nearly fallen in love with him. He played the part so convincingly and confidently that he really became his character. He had great stage presence, not to mention awesome musical talent.
Speaking of musical talent, Emily Fox, who played actress Lois Lane, had an incredible voice. I'm talking about one in a million. Her voice was strong, rich, jazzy, and precisely on key. The audience felt every note she sang.
Another notable talent was Nayeli Adorador-Knudsen, who played Lilli Vanessi. Her theatrics were unbelievable. We even got to see some of her improvisational skills during a set malfunction. She truly gave live to the part. She was sincere and courageous and just beautiful. I can't even express how impressed I was.
Okay, I know I'm getting carried away but I have to mention one more actor, then I'm done, I swear. Owen McDougall, who had dual roles, was outstanding, specifically as one of the gangsters. This kid was hilarious and charming and incredibly talented and he really just brought the house down. Enough said.
The sets were, well, versatile to say the least. The lighting was great and the piano accompaniment by Diana Perry was wonderful.
Some of the musical numbers in which the whole cast sang could have definitely benefited from stronger vocals, but you have to leave something for next year, right? The entire performance was sprinkled with some nice dance pieces, which were none too complex but nicely pulled off. All in all I'd say that the production was a success.
Kiss Me Kate had its last run on Friday, April 14. The cast obviously put an amazing amount of effort into this production and it was well worth my two hours.
NOTE FROM KISS ME KATE'S PRODUCER: The other cast was just as good!