Kiss And Tell
ACO starts season with frothy summer selection
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.
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.