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1940s musical 'Kiss Me, Kate' debuts at Marroney Theater

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 15, 2000
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The seductive appeal of the theater and its backstage antics - what director Harold Dickson calls "the contagion of the theater" - come front and center in Arizona Repertory Theater's musical, "Kiss Me, Kate"

Featuring a play-within-a-play, this musical concerns the on-stage and offstage proceedings of a theater troupe's musical rendition of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew."

At the center of this ensemble are Fred Graham/Petruccio (played by musical theater junior Jay Cotner) and Lilli Vanessi/Kate (played by musical theater junior Sarah Fleming).

Lilli - "a very manipulative, very dramatic well-to-do movie star diva" according to Fleming - is divorced from Fred but still loves him.

Fred, who Cotner calls "a very egocentric Renaissance man of his time whose a bit of a womanizer," has mutual feelings but finds their personalities clash.

In order to reunite, they must look past those differences.

"(The play) deals with male-female relationships," said Dickson, a theater arts professor. "It is about coming to grips with the real other person, not with your projection of what that person should be."

Though working with somewhat timeless themes, Dickson had to adjust the Tony-award-winning show - which debuted on Broadway in 1948 - to accommodate the modern audience.

"I think that Harold (Dickson) has done an excellent job of bringing old Broadway - which is what "Kiss Me, Kate" is - and bringing more lively aspects together," Cotner said.

The changes dealt with the portrayal of Fred and Lilli's relationship. In the original show, which borrowed from Shakespeare, the play ended with Kate submitting to a male's authority.

Dickson said this was too outdated for a contemporary audience and adapted the tone of their relationship to give the main characters equal stature.

"It's a big love story," Cotner said. "It's not just a story about a man conquering a woman. It's about two people who have lost each other and have found each other again."

The music and costumes, however, have remained similar to that of the original show.

"('Kiss Me, Kate') has fun, exciting, and up tempo numbers and some sexy, jazzy ones. It has it all really," Cotner said.

Dickson describes it as "vintage Cole Porter" who wrote the play's music.

The main roles in "Kiss Me, Kate" have been double-cast, and the cast welcomes the variety of pairing among performers.

"(Double-casting) provides for a lot of spontaneity. It keeps things fresh, new and exciting. You play the moment as it happens," said Fleming.

Dickson said that this allows for a different performance each night.

"It keeps a slight, new improvisational edge to the performance," he said.

"Kiss Me, Kate" is playing at the Marroney Theater through the end of February.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. weeknights and 1:30 p.m. on weekends. Tickets are $19 for general admission and $13 for students. For more information, contact the UA Fine Arts Box Office at 621-1162.

Graig Uhlin can be reached at catalyst@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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