Vocals lend wings
to musical weighted
by anachronisms

"Kiss Me, Kate": Repeats at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays to March 13. Tickets: $14 to $17 for adults, $8 to $10 for kids. Call 438-4480.

Strong vocal performances by three leads and a secondary performer are the brightest facets in Army Community Theatre's revival of "Kiss Me, Kate."

>> Buz Tennent (Fred Graham/Petruchio) and Cathy Foy (Lilli Vanessi/Kate) mesh as the bickering couple for whom a production of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" is an amplification of their tempestuous relationship backstage.

>> Tricia Marciel (Lois Lane/ Bianca) matches her best work in local theater with her seductive portrayal of an opportunistic actress of easy virtue.

>> Alison L.B. Maldonado (Hatti) adds another first-rate vocal performance in "Too Darn Hot." The number is one of several that neither advances the story nor our understanding of the characters, but Maldonado makes it a rousing celebration of 1948 musical theater in opening Act 2. Lest there be any doubt about her range, she's best known around town as a singer, but "Too Darn Hot" shows she's also worth watching as a dancer.

Story and character development are secondary in this musical-within-a-musical about complications that ensue when egotistical director-producer Fred Graham casts his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, as his co-star in a musical "Taming of the Shrew."

Graham also casts opportunistic nightclub singer Lois Lane as Bianca, and Lane's boyfriend and nightclub partner, Bill Calhoun, as Bianca's suitor Lucentio. The complications include Lilli's involvement with wealthy political power broker Harrison Howell (Jack Bates), Fred's flirtatious relationship with Lois and the fact that Calhoun owes $10,000 to a big gambling operation and has put Fred's name on the IOU. Two gangsters -- David Starr (First Man) and Larry Bialock (Second Man) -- stop by the theater on opening night to collect the money.

Lilli assumes a floral arrangement from Fred shows he still loves her, except they were intended for Lois. Lilli then tells Fred she is quitting, but he convinces the hoods that keeping Lilli in the show is in their best interest and they become self-conscious supernumerary members of his production.

Foy received a 2001 Po'okela Award for her portrayal of Lilli/ Kate in Hawaii Pacific University's staging of "Kiss Me, Kate"; two other alumni of HPU's "Kate" also appear, which makes comparisons inevitable.

>> Foy again shows her range in the dual roles of actress and Shakespeare's shrew. She sings "So in Love" with poignant sweetness, then displays her comic chops with "I Hate Men." A spanking scene seems tentative, but she and Tennent are otherwise in synch throughout.

>> Marciel, Foy's understudy at HPU, is good as Bianca and excellent as Lois. "Tom Dick or Harry," her big number as Bianca in Act 1, is beautifully performed in tandem with Daren Kimura (Gremio), Eric Richards (Hortensio) and Cole Horibe (Lucentio). Marciel's "Always True to You" is a show-stopper as she succeeds in projecting the sex appeal of a woman who uses her body to get what she wants, while shading her performance to make Lois appealing rather than sluttish.

>> Tennent and director-choreographer Jim Hutchison interpret Graham as more of a straight-arrow guy than Steve Wagenseller and director Joyce Maltby did at HPU, but Tennent's voice and stage presence give his performance equal credibility. He and Foy convincingly segue from rancor to romance in "Wunderbar," and his biggest number as Petruchio, "Were Thine That Special Face," reaffirms his leading-man stature. Add "So in Love Am I" and Tennent's is a winning performance.

Starr and Bialock make a fine team as the gangsters and provide much of the comic content. Their big song-and-dance number, "Brush Up on Your Shakespeare," runs longer than necessary, but this is true for several other musical numbers. Even "Too Darn Hot," which ran longer than eight minutes on opening night, starts to drag when Maldonado isn't singing.

Horibe is an exceptionally light-footed, graceful dancer who adds many wonderful moments to Hutchison's choreography, but his Calhoun isn't a character we care about, nor is there any chemistry between Horibe and Marciel in backstage scenes as Bill and Lois.

Jack Bates plays Lilli's wealthy suitor as such a decent and average guy that Graham's treatment of him passes the point of being mean-spirited long before the scene ends.

Tennent has a good scene early when Graham tries and fails to intercept the note attached to the flowers; the slapstick elements in two "Shrew" scenes are effective; and although Starr and Bialock are relatively low key, they succeed as a charming team.

However, this bit of old-school musical theater moves slowly and never gets up to speed as a witty romantic comedy, even with allowances made for the problematic content of Shakespeare's "Shrew" regarding the ways that a man can "tame" a woman. No one on opening night seemed to catch any of the vintage jokes about President Truman and something about serving borscht at the White House.

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