The Marina del Rey Symphony presents two nights of the Cole Porter classic “Kiss Me, Kate”

By Brian Marks

Dolled up for Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, ensemble members practice dance steps for opening night
Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner

Though it’s a convention in many musicals to suspend disbelief as characters publicly burst into song, there’s a long tradition of Broadways shows that openly acknowledge their artifice and let audiences in on the joke.

One of the best of these meta-musicals, Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” concludes the Marina del Rey Symphony’s free outdoor summer concerts season with fully-staged productions on Thursday and Saturday in Burton Chace Park.

“Kiss Me, Kate” takes place in a single evening as a theater company premieres its production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The company’s egotistical director, Fred Graham (Zeffin Quinn Hollis), takes the role of Petruchio for himself. Despite their constant bickering, he has cast his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Teri Bibb) as Katharine, the eponymous “shrew.” Joining the ex-couple are Lois Lane (Madison Claire Parks), a young actress with whom Fred is smitten, and her boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Ethan Daniel Corbett), an actor addicted to gambling and in serious debt to mobsters who also find their way to the stage.

In a fittingly meta touch, Hollis, the director and leading man of the Marina del Rey Symphony’s production (as well as an operatic baritone), plays the director and leading man of this classic play-within-a-play.

After putting on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” last year (also directed by and starring Hollis), Marina del Rey Symphony Artistic Director and conductor Frank Fetta wanted to “stay in the same vein with a real classic — one that would utilize a big orchestra and not just a pit den.”

In an era in which musical productions increasingly pass off economically motivated cuts to the orchestra as artistic choices, Fetta and the symphony are giving audiences a chance to experience the music as they would have first heard it more than 70 years ago. Just as the sound will be bigger and richer, so will the on-stage visuals.

“We’ve really, really increased our dance profile,” says Fetta, mentioning the work of choreographer and dance captain Sylvie Gosse. “There’s a lot more dancing than there was in ‘South Pacific.’”

This new production will feature a revised version of “Kiss Me, Kate’s” book (originally written by Sam and Bella Spewack) which removes some of the more sanitized alterations that crept into the work over time.

“Cole Porter wrote a lot of additional, alternative lyrics. I think he probably did that with the wisdom that he knew the audiences that he would be playing for. Some of the lyrics get pretty cheeky — they’re really out there. And we’re not backing off,” says Fetta. “I think he probably thought if you’re going to do the show in L.A. or Des Moines, Iowa, we’re going to have to have different lyrics. It just won’t fly in Indiana!”

Luckily for said L.A. audiences, they’ll be getting a professional version of Cole Porter’s musical that’s just as he intended.

“Kiss Me, Kate” starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday (Aug. 22 and 24) at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Free. Visit beaches.lacounty.gov or search eventbrite.com for venue info.

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