City Paper is not for tourists
To christen their spacious and impressive H Street digs, the Washington Savoyards are taking a short break from Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan. Instead of pirates, Pinafores, and patter songs, it’s Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter’s biggest Broadway hit, and over at the Atlas they’re serving it up like the theatrical comfort food it’s always been: thick ’n’ cheesy but pretty satisfying. After all, you don’t go to Kiss Me, Kate to see theater that will change your life, you go to revel in all its show biz kitsch and the promise of juicy backstage battles amid the corsets and couplets. Mostly, of course, you go for Porter’s perfectly crafted, almost virally hummable tunes. And here they are, delivered with purity and polish by the show’s leads. Michael Nansel puts his rich voice to powerful use as a bluff and barrel-chested Fred. Sandy Bainum, as Lilli, has the vocal chops to make “So in Love” as haunting as it deserves to be. (It’s a love song, sure, but all those minor chords are in there for a reason, and Bainum makes sure you feel each one in your chest.) They’re backed by a 21-piece orchestra that sounds great in the new space. Some unevenness among the show’s ensemble actors—who are quite young and look it—is noticeable, which keeps the production numbers from coming together as nimbly as they should. “Too Darn Hot,” for example, isn’t, particularly. Without that energy, the second act starts to drag. In a program note, director Hal Simons declares, “If it ain’t broke….!” and, of course, he’s right, up to a point. It ain’t broke, but it does creak a bit, especially when so many of the yucks come courtesy of two gangsters delivering dialogue straight from the “dem, dese, and dose” school. And although Bainum sounds great on “So in Love,” she isn’t given much to do while singing it besides staring moonily at a floral bouquet. Still, it’s Kiss Me, Kate, for Christ’s sake. Is there anything—besides the degree of technical skill on display at the Atlas Center—that separates this production from the Kates that have packed high school auditoriums and dinner theaters for decades? Nope. There’s no uncanny, lightning-in-a-bottle theatrical synergy at work here, but when these melodies are presented this well, you probably won’t miss it.