Ra­gusa, Mcgowan make ‘Kate’ great

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mary Kunz Gold­man

The Buf­falo Phil­har­monic Orches­tra has given us some mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences this sea­son. The Mozart Re­quiem. Shostakovich’s 13th Sym­phony.

Satur­day’s pro­duc­tion of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate,” though, brought a mo­ment that ranks right up there as one of the greats.

That was when Michele Ra­gusa, in the mid­dle of the hi­lar­i­ous song “I Hate Men,” leapt up on the podium and lunged at As­so­ciate Con­duc­tor Matthew Krae­mer. “I hate men!” she sang, grab­bing him. To say she sang the song is putting it mildly. She hissed it and spat it. She hurled the song at the hand­some, af­fa­ble, blame­less Krae­mer. And then – and then! – she spanked him, a big thwack, right on the fanny. Ha-ha! Who will ever for­get that? Ra­gusa was the heart and soul of the pro­duc­tion. Di­rected by James Bren­nan, it was the lat­est in an Buf­falo Phil­har­monic Orches­tra’s “Kiss Me Kate” With Michele Ra­gusa. Satur­day night in Klein­hans Mu­sic Hall, 3 Sym­phony Cir­cle. en­joy­able line of semi-staged mu­si­cals the BPO has been pre­sent­ing at the rate of about one a year.

Al­ways a de­light, this home­grown Broad­way star out­did her­self in the dual part of Lilli Vanessi, the ac­tress play­ing Kather­ine, the shrew in Shake­speare’s “The Tam­ing of the Shrew.” Your eyes shot to her when­ever she was on stage. She was a walk­ing, seething fire­cracker. Her voice was a mar­vel. How she could go from the gut­tural rav­ings of “I Hate Men” to the clear so­prano high notes of “So In Love,” I will never know. Who would guess it would be phys­i­cally pos­si­ble?

Mike McGowan, co-star­ring as Fred Gra­ham/Petru­chio, matched her pas­sion. It was a thrill to hear him de­claim those fa­mous lines: “Why, there’s a wench! Come on and kiss me, Kate!” They have co-starred in the show be­fore and have a good chem­istry.

The show re­volved around th­ese two, in ad­di­tion to two other peo­ple of great abil­ity – namely, Wil­liam Shake­speare and Cole Porter. “Kiss Me Kate” gains so much life from Shake­speare’s earthy hu­mor. A lot of the best jokes come di­rectly from him, and the songs get you in that pe­cu­liar Cole Porter way. They are oddly bawdy and bittersweet, so­phis­ti­cated and mov­ing.

Fall­ing in be­hind the leads was a lot of other fine tal­ent. Jenn Stafford, as Bianca, seemed to be salut­ing Ber­nadette Peters with her kew­pie-doll de­liv­ery, but she had enough in­di­vid­u­al­ity to carry it off. The silly “Tom, Dick or Harry,” a num­ber I love, got a great treat­ment with danc­ing and all kinds of funny shtick. Stafford also sang a beau­ti­ful “Why Can’t You Be­have,” which has some of Porter’s best writ­ing. Her voice is clear and car­ries well.

Pa­trick Riviere and David Bondrow were a hit as Gang­ster 1 and Gang­ster 2. It’s rare that bad guys don’t bog a show down. The naughty “Brush Up Your Shake­speare” was so cute that it won some of the hearti­est ap­plause of the night.

A cou­ple of things could have made the good even bet­ter. The Phil­har­monic’s abridged ver­sion may have been too abridged, be­cause at the end, it was un­clear what ex­actly had changed Kather­ine’s mind and made ev­ery­thing turn out OK.

Also, when Krae­mer was spanked, I made the mis­take of glanc­ing at the orches­tra. Hardly any­one was re­act­ing at all. Mu­si­cians, look alive! A crazy woman has just jumped up and grabbed your con­duc­tor. You should be reel­ing!

Quib­bles aside, though, that was still a great mo­ment.

A great show.

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