In what has turned out to be a bona fide treat for patrons this season, Alpena Civic Theatre has produced not just one, but two big spectacle musicals. "The King and I" kicked off the 2012-13 season last fall and "Kiss Me, Kate," currently playing, completes it in style.
Finding enough strong performers and production team members willing to donate large chunks of their time for such an involved show can't be easy, but Director Jay Kettler has made it happen. Working around busy schedules, he's melded together 26 people from various walks of life both young and old, experienced actors and newbies to bring ACT patrons another thoroughly enjoyable show.
A 1948 Tony Award-winner, "Kiss Me, Kate" combines Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" with Cole Porter's memorable music and lyrics. The show builds a cheerfully farcical plot around grumpy film star Lilli Vanessi (Marlo Broad) and her ex-husband/director Fred Graham (Jeffry Kuznicki, Jr.). Still in love with Fred though managing to put up a wall of steel, she's reduced to appearing in his repertoire production of "Taming of the Shrew" at the Ford Theatre in Baltimore.
A play-within-a-play, each "Taming of the Shrew" cast member's on stage life is complicated by what's happening off-stage. Not only are Lilli and Fred doing the I-can't-stand-you routine, which really means I'm crazy about you, but a secondary love interest tosses together the flirty Lois Lane (Ashley Timmreck) and the hapless gambler Bill Calhoun (Nick Hartman).
That relationship doesn't go smoothly either, especially since Fred has his eye on Lois and Bill has recently lost at cards to the tune of $10,000. Further complications arise when it's discovered that Bill signed his $10,000 I.O.U. note as Fred. Two amusing gangsters (Bill Halsey and Bob Coleman) show up in Fred's dressing room with intentions of collecting the money or else. Eventually this pair of buffoons worm their way into the cast of "Taming of the Shrew," but not before they perform the silly song, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
All four leads bring strong voices to the table, but especially Broad. She's stellar with whatever she sings, though she also adds a lot humor to her solo, "I Hate Men." Among Kuznicki's outstanding numbers is "Were Thine That Special Face," while Timmreck and Hartman get to perform the fun "Why Can't You Behave" number in tandem.
Local audiences are accustomed to seeing Nickie Hilton perform at Thunder Bay Theatre and Karl W. Heidemann at Rogers City Community Theatre, but fortunately for ACT goers, both joined the cast of "Kiss Me, Kate." Hilton has a pleasing cameo role as Hattie in the opening number, "Another Op'nin' Another Show," while Heidemann's unmistakable stage presence can't be denied in his role as Gen. Harrison Howell.
Plenty of other performers lend their own special something to the show too, including Lisa Rhea as the no-nonsense stage manager for "Taming of the Shrew;" Jessica Pearson, who leads the whole ensemble in the jazzy number, "Too Darn Hot;" and Jere Standen, Jim Phillips, Brandon Peterson, J.D. Niergarth, Liam Rhea, Devon Chisholm, Jerry Broad and Marilyn Kettler.
Rounding out the action and the sound are chorus members Jeannie Pines, Lillian Broad, Rachel Taratuta, Amanda Hulsey, Linda Suneson, Duane Beyer and Tony Whitney, along with the youngest member in the cast, Brayden Broad.
All those Cole Porter songs need some great accompaniment, and that is supplied by the ultra-talented Suelyn Bartz, Mary Ann Hubbard and Judy Case.
What often sets ACT shows apart is the attention paid to details like the scenery and costumes. That's once again the case with a stunning back wall, based on actual period structures in Padua, Italy. It was painted by Nancy Mead. Grace Morrison, with help from a team of painters, also created a beautiful backdrop to represent the curtain for the repertoire performance of "The Taming of the Shrew."
As head costumer, Kettler's equally talented wife, Marilyn, assembled an array of gowns and other 17th century garb for the guys that is a feast for the eyes. Helping with the design of the costumes was Victoria Earhart and a team of seamstresses.
ACT had plenty of assistance as well on set construction, including a unique cart built by Duane Beyer. Other key production team members included Jackie Herbert as assistant director, Carol Witherbee as music director and Marilyn Kettler as choreographer.
Remaining performances of "Kiss Me Kate" are May 10-11 and May 15-19. For reservations, call the ACT box office at 354-3624.