DORSET — I’ll say it up front: It’s impossible to do justice to what the Dorset Players have accomplished in their season-concluding extravaganza of the classic musical “Kiss Me Kate,” from the book by Sam and Bella Spewack, with music and lyrics by the immortal Cole Porter. The show is directed by Kevin O’Toole, and produced by Julie Citron, with musical and orchestra direction by Michael Gallagher, and choreography by the inimitable Linda Joy Sullivan.
The story is well-known and the production has been staged worldwide since its 1948 opening, to include multiple revivals on and off Broadway and overseas. The story involves the production at Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore of a musical version of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and the conflict on and off-stage between Fred Graham (Todd Houston), the show’s director, producer and star, and his leading lady, his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Danielle Houston).
A lesser romance concerns Lois Lane (Tina Fores-Hitt), the actress playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill (Colin Hill), who runs afoul of two gangsters (Tom Ferguson, Paul Michael Brinker).
There is a host of other characters in this massive cast, with many doubling up as members of the dance ensemble. These include the actors: Renee Wymer, Patrick Sargent, Mary Jo Greco, Richard Grip, Director O’Toole, David McAneny, Megan Demarest and Laura King.
A salute to three debutantes: There was the classically trained dancer Kelly Gaiotti and the Players’ Mr. do-it-all-behind-the-scenes Steven Schlussel — the former with almost 20, and the latter with almost 50 years since their last stage appearances. They were joined by complete rookie and retired scientist Linda Mulcahy. If I missed someone else, apologies!
There are many ways to stage “Kiss Me Kate,” and the Players chose to go the spectacular route with intricate and heavily populated song and dance numbers. I’m not exaggerating when I say they were all brilliantly done given the presence of mostly amateurs.
A tip of the hat must go to one of the simpler moments with Danielle Houston spitting and hissing rage in “I Hate Men.” Also earning it, the vibrant attention-getting jazzy mood of just about the entire cast in “Too Darn Hot,” with the cool smoothness of Patrick Sargent, and the spectacular bodily gyrations of Tina Fores Hitt. Finally, we must all pay homage to the absolute show-stealing rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” with Paul Michael Brinker and Tom Ferguson doing Porter’s sexually charged double-entendre lyrics justice, and, to be very honest, deliver the three curtain calls better than anything I’ve seen on Broadway or at Royal Albert Hall. They brought down the house over and over, and in the final well-justified standing ovation at the production’s completion, they drew the most resounding cheers from the audience.
It was clear to the full house on opening night that O’Toole and Sullivan had their charges ready to go, as did Gallagher with his live orchestra.
We have become accustomed to the Players’ production excellence, and Citron’s efforts were no exception. The staff and crew outdid themselves, in order: Christy Vogel assisting Sullivan, costumes by Suzi Dorgeloh and Cherie Thompson, stage management by Lynne Worth assisted by Jane LoBrutto, set by Drew and Errol Hill, and Cory Mayer’s lights and sound.
One final note: As someone with two left feet, I’ve always been mesmerized by professional dancers, and the Players do have a few in their midst. But what choreographer Sullivan accomplished in the design of the dances, the emphasis on tap — for which she is internationally known — and the shear ability to train her dancers to take on very complex numbers and break them down into digestible segments for a large cast of amateurs to master, well, the Players really should have brought her on stage for a bow, too.
That sort of grand spectacle is not what you typically find in community theater, but the Players — along with the ability and timing of peerless humor — delivered it in bushel after bushel during “Kiss Me Kate.”
There is a reason why the Dorset Players is one of the nation’s oldest and respected hometown troupes, so please do yourself a favor and go catch this closing show of the 95th season, because the remaining houses are packing quickly, but the pure ecstasy of performance is something that will stay with you long after its final curtain.
“Kiss Me Kate” by Sam and Bella Spewack, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, is directed by Kevin O’Toole, produced by Julie Citron, with musical direction by Michael Gallagher, and choreography by Linda Joy Sullivan. It will run through May 28 at the Dorset Players, 104 Cheney Road in Dorset. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 802-867-5777 or visiting dorsetplayers.org