CENTRAL CITY • What did they do to the Central City Opera House? In its 145 years of existence, this acoustic and theatrical wonder never has been assaulted like this. This season’s production of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” is dated, overamplified, oversexed and an embarrassment to the man it was intended to celebrate: William Shakespeare. And … it was “Too Darn … Spectacular!”
This play within a play (a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew”) was a hit when it opened in 1948 and has played the world ever since. Central City Opera’s creative team — conductor Adam Turner, choreographer Daniel Pelzig and director Ken Cazan — made a number of tweaks that only complemented the strengths of the cast.
After “Another Op nin’, Another Show” launched a strong, theatrically rich overture, a glut of dated dialogue slowed the show to a crawl. “Why Can’t You Behave?” delivered by Lauren Gemelli as Lois Lane/Bianca helped to reignite the performance. Her characters were designed to steal the show, and Gemelli’s singing, dancing and acting delivered the goods. Tour de force is not a strong enough phrase to describe her sparkling, sexy take on “Always True to You in My Fashion.”
Within Kate are two love stories that parallel Shakespeare’s play, giving the four principal actors dual roles. Joining Gemelli was Emily Brockway in the role of Lilli Vanessi/Katherine. She sang like an angel when appropriate, captured all the dramatic beats of her complicated character and brilliantly belted out “I Hate Men.” As her objet de désir Fred Graham/Petruchio, Jonathan Hays gave a master class for singing actors. He commanded the stage and sang with power and expression.
Though underplayed, Jeffrey Scott Parsons’ portrayal of Lois’ on-again, off-again boyfriend Bill Calhoun/Lucentio was always appealing. Taking advantage of his skills as a tap dancer, Cazan and Pelzig chose Parsons to lead off Act II’s show-stopping “Too Darn Hot.” The joint was jumping.
Pelzig and his ever-eager and able company of aspiring opera singers, augmented by members of Nu-World Contemporary Danse Theatre, created visual excitement that was breathtaking. It was almost impossible for the audience to stay seated, especially when Turner lit a fire under the company’s fine opera-centric orchestra, ablaze with added brass, percussion and saxes.
Did I mention the thugs? The gangster duo of Adelmo Guidarelli and Isaiah Feken mugged their stereotypical characters ad nauseam. However, all was forgiven once these two fabulous performers mined irrepressible comedy and song from “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”