Kiss And Tell

ACO starts sea­son with frothy sum­mer se­lec­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - WHAT'S UP - LARA JO HIGHTOWER

This evening, the Arts Cen­ter of the Ozarks de­buts its pro­duc­tion of “Kiss Me, Kate” — the 1949 mu­si­cal that fea­tures 18 of Cole Porter’s most bub­bly com­po­si­tions — and at the helm will be the youngest di­rec­tor to ever take on a pro­duc­tion at ACO. Cole­man Ray Clark, a 2015 Fayetteville High School grad­u­ate who cur­rently at­tends Man­hat­tan Mary­mount Col­lege in New York City, re­turned this sum­mer to guide the project.

Watch­ing him com­mand the at­ten­tion of 35 ac­tors, help a stage man­ager call light cues and make de­ci­sions on cos­tumes and set de­sign at a re­cent re­hearsal, it’s ob­vi­ous that he is more than up for the chal­lenge.

Clark says he con­sid­ered around 25 mu­si­cals be­fore nar­row­ing it down to one. “Kiss Me, Kate” won the first Tony Award ever pre­sented for Best Mu­si­cal in 1949. It’s a frothy com­edy that re­moves the “fourth wall” for the au­di­ence and al­lows them to peek be­hind the scenes as a troupe of ac­tors — re­plete with com­i­cal prob­lems that in­clude gam­bling ad­dic­tions, ro­man­tic tur­moil and friendly ri­val­ries — open a mu­si­cal ver­sion of Shake­speare’s “Tam­ing of the Shrew” in Bal­ti­more.

“I was in­ter­ested in the fact that ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ could pull a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple to­gether,” says Clark. “It goes be­yond racial, age or gen­der bound­aries. It’s very wel­com­ing of any­one who would want to au­di­tion, with any level of ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s not an easy show. It has longer scenes and is a longer mu­si­cal. It re­quires tal­ented ac­tors who are will­ing to take on a big chal­lenge — and we have that.”

Bran­don Hamil­ton plays the dou­ble role of Fred Gra­ham and Petru­chio. He is re­turn­ing to the stage after a 22-year break, hav­ing last per­formed at ACO in 1995 be­fore mov­ing to Nashville, Tenn. Though he has been back in the area for 12 years, this sum­mer was the first time he was able to rally his nerves to au­di­tion again.

“Ev­ery year, I’ve said, ‘I’m go­ing to come back this sum­mer,’ but then I’m al­ways like, ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘My voice isn’t in good enough shape.’ So at the be­gin­ning of this year, I said to my­self, ‘There’s never go­ing to be enough time. I’m never go­ing to be in good enough voice.’ And I miss it. I miss it a lot.”

The fam­ily-like at­mos­phere of the ACO is the same as he re­mem­bered it from over 20 years ago, he says.

“We didn’t have so­cial me­dia 22 years ago, but there are peo­ple from those shows that I’m still friends with to­day. That’s a big rea­son I’m here again. You walk through that door ev­ery day, and you may have just seen me 18 hours ago, but you’re hug­ging me as though you haven’t seen me in a week. We’re not get­ting paid to be here. We’re here be­cause we love to do this, and that’s the big­gest mo­ti­va­tor of all.”

Kan­dace Bowen, who plays the dou­ble role of Lilli Vanessi and Katharine, agrees. She has five chil­dren and has per­formed on the ACO stage with all five of them at least once.

She also notes that the com­edy of “Kiss Me, Kate” is a sure crowd­pleaser.

“Off­stage re­la­tion­ships start seep­ing out on stage,” she says. “Lilli comes out on stage at a mo­ment that is very in­ap­pro­pri­ate, and she’s very an­gry. No one on stage knows quite what to do about that, so they all try to con­tinue with the sto­ry­line. It leads to some very funny lines and be­hav­ior.”

Clark says it’s been easy to lead the big cast and ap­prox­i­mately 15-per­son crew be­cause of the tal­ent and co­op­er­a­tion he’s seen.

“This is the largest show that I’ve di­rected, and it would not have been pos­si­ble with­out my chore­og­ra­pher, Ly­dia Cor­bell, or our de­sign team or our stage man­ager, Bai­ley Lee,” he says. “Since day one, it’s been so smooth. We have a group of peo­ple who are so com­mit­ted to the sum­mer mu­si­cal. It’s been a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence than I ever thought it could be.

“We have found peo­ple that are ready to go on an ad­ven­ture they’ve never gone on be­fore, and that’s re­ally all I can ask of my cast and crew.”

The open­ing night per­for­mance will start with a pre-show cel­e­bra­tion that in­cludes hors d’oeu­vres at 6 p.m. and desserts and cham­pagne dur­ing in­ter­mis­sion.

NWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE/J.T. WAMPLER

Bran­don Hamil­ton is Fred Gra­ham and Claire Fossey is Lois Lane dur­ing a re­hearsal for “Kiss Me, Kate” at the Arts Cen­ter of the Ozarks in Spring­dale. The show opens to­day.

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