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‘Kiss Me, Kate’ takes the stage

By Frank Ruggiero (

Article Published: Apr. 10 | Modified: Apr. 14
‘Kiss Me, Kate’ takes the stage

From left, Farren Hilliard and Remy Martin portray leading couple Lilli Vanessi and Frederick Graham in Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me, Kate,' now in production at Appalachian State University.
Photos by Frank Ruggiero

The High Country is invited to brush up its Shakespeare this weekend, as “Kiss Me, Kate” takes the Schaefer Center stage April 11 to 13.

Cole Porter’s musically comic take on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Kiss Me, Kate” is part of the High Country Shakespeare Celebration and closes out Appalachian State University’s 2013-14 Performing Arts Series.

To boot, the show features 104 ASU students, representing 38 academic disciplines.

“You’ve got a biology major singing, a broadcasting major in the pit, an exercise science major on the crew,” said Keith Martin, director and the John M. Blackburn Distinguished Professor of Theatre. “It proves that Appalachian students are talented, diverse and far-reaching in their abilities.”

The production is also collaboration between the Office of Arts and Cultural Programs, the Department of Theatre and Dance and the Hayes School of Music.

“The last time we did this was 1997, with a production of ‘The Pajama Game,’” Martin said. “It really does showcase the best of what each of us has to offer.”

To Martin, the musical showcases the best of what the legendary Cole Porter has to offer.

“I think it’s the best of all Cole Porter’s shows,” he said. “It’s my absolute favorite … and it’s also a perfect offering for the High Country Shakespeare Celebration. If we didn’t do it, who would? You’ve got a 32-piece orchestra, a stage with the width and depth capable of sustaining the show … dancing roles, theater roles, singing roles, and it just goes beyond that.”

Originally produced in 1948, “Kiss Me, Kate” depicts a play within play, namely the production of a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” starring Fred Graham (played by Remy Martin) and his leading lady — and ex-wife — Lilli Vanessi (Farren Hilliard). Meanwhile, actress Lois Lane (Nicole Barone) abides the gambling habits of love interest and fellow actor Bill Calhoun (Luke Schaffer), which wind up putting Graham in something of a pickle.

And that’s only the beginning.

I think this is a show that will resonate with every generation,” Martin said, noting that younger audiences are likely to enjoy the lavish sets, costumes and dances, while older viewers will enjoy some of the production’s more historical aspects. “It’s also one of the most tuneful scores ever to be produced in American theater; just look at the song list. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another show that had that many hit songs, and the tunes are timeless.”

Fans of the 1953 film, starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson, will be in for the treat. While the theatrical production won the very first Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, the film version was noticeably different.

“The wickedly clever lyrics … didn’t make it past the movie censors without several songs having to be cleaned up for a family audience,” Martin writes in his director’s notes. “They are performed here for you today as originally written.”

The show marks Martin’s 435th production and 138th musical. However, it’s a first for many of his performers.

“It’s the yours, mine and ours scenario,” he said. “It really does merge the talent pool between so many different aspects of this university. We’ve got opera singers in their first musical, we’ve got dancers singing for the first time in their lives, we’ve got actors tackling choreography and operatic sections of the score that are far beyond what they do on stage with a play.

“…And then the opportunity of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday; it was just too perfect, like it was meant to be.”


“Kiss Me, Kate” hits the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts on April 11 to 13, with show times at 8 p.m. April 11 and 12 and 2 p.m. April 13. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for students and are available at the Schaefer Center and Valborg Theatre box offices, by calling (800) 841-2787 or by visiting

Additional Images

From left, Farren Hilliard and Remy Martin portray leading couple Lilli Vanessi and Frederick Graham in Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me, Kate,' now in production at Appalachian State University.
Photos by Frank Ruggiero

Luke Schaffer and Nicole Barone portray star-crossed lovers Bill Calhoun and Lois Lane in Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me, Kate.'

From left, Alan Jacob McCurry (First Man), Remy Martin (Fred Graham) and Tyler Kleckner (Second Man) star in 'Kiss Me, Kate.'

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