There's something exhilarating about a musical that gets right down to business. The 2000 Broadway revamp of Cole Porter's vintage tuner starts with a blast, presenting a combination overture/production number, "Another Op'nin', Another Show." Though this makes for a smashing kickoff, those titular lyrics don't apply to Musical Theatre West's rendition, which is hardly an also-ran. In their MTW debuts, award-winning local director Rick Sparks and acclaimed New York choreographer Jane Lanier share a serendipitous collaboration, resulting in a terrific production that revels in the old-fashioned virtues of a seldom revived Golden Age classic.
Librettists Sam and Bella Spewack devised a unique way to combine the Bard with musical comedy conventions in this show. It's a play-within-a-play, with a touring company trying out its musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore. The story of the director/star of the company and his ex-wife—who is still his leading lady—mirrors the tumultuous clashes between Shakespeare's lovestruck combatants, demonstrating that the battle of the sexes hasn't changed much after four centuries. Toplining the MTW rendition are stalwart David Engel as chauvinistic Fred/Petruchio and Elizabeth Ward Land as the fiery Lilli/Kate. Both are in fine voice and achieve a dynamic chemistry. Their duets, such as the evergreen "Wunderbar," are joyous, and Land's "I Hate Men" is a hilarious battle cry for suppressed women through the ages. Second bananas William Akey and Elna Binckes are adorable as two company actors playing out their own mating game, with her flirtatious nature and his penchant for gambling the obstacles to overcome. As dimwitted mobsters masquerading as thespians, David Holladay and Roy Leake Jr. stop the show with their sublime vaudevillian turn, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Carol Dennis and Gerry McIntyre sizzle as they lead the aforementioned opening number and the aptly named "Too Darn Hot." Dennis' booming voice is a wonder of nature, and McIntyre's dazzling footwork is a showstopper.
Jeff Modereger's scenic design is opulent and atmospheric, William Georges' lighting effects are exquisite, and Todd K. Proto's recreations of Martin Pakledinaz's original costume designs have a colorful Renaissance flair. Stephen Gothold's music direction sparkles. Wunderbar, indeed.
"Kiss Me, Kate," presented by Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Added performance Sun. July 18, 7 p.m.) July 10-25. $35-47. (562) 856-1999, ext. 4.