Community theater is an iffy proposition. At its worst it can come off as a second-rate high school effort; at its best it can showcase hidden talents. The Lawrence Community Theatre's final production of the season, "Kiss Me Kate," is on the better end of the spectrum.
The musical, which opened Friday, brings to life the music and lyrics of the great Cole Porter. Set during a sweltering summer night in 1948 Baltimore, the show follows the romantic entanglements of a troupe of players staging Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." As they prepare for and present the show, the audience (serving both as voyeur and participant) sees both the backstage and onstage turmoil of star-crossed lovers.
There's the recently divorced Lilli and Fred (Sarah Young and Curtis Marsh) -- the Katharine and Petrucchio of Shakespeare's play -- whose romance mirrors their Shakespearean counterparts' onstage courtship, and Lois and Bill (Mia Goldsmith and Daniel Lassley) -- Shakespeare's Bianca and Lucentio -- who can't stay "on" in an on-again-off-again relationship. Add a pair of gangsters, come to collect a gambling debt, and you've got a musical-comedy classic, where much of the drama takes place in the play-within-a-play.
The show will run through June 22 and, assuming the performers keep up their opening night momentum, it should be a good run. "Kiss Me Kate" and other shows of its ilk are standards of high school and community theaters nationwide, and it's easy to understand why: They're bright, they're smart and they're superbly written.
As Fred/Petrucchio, Marsh is the show's standout performer. Both of his characters have huge egos, and Marsh is perfect at delivering the quips and one-liners in both roles. His stage presence is commanding.
Young's Lilli/Katharine is also a strong role, and she is equally adept at both sweetness and shrewishness, as the part demands. The problem is her voice. While Young has a gorgeous, big, operatic voice, sometimes it's a bit overwhelming in a theater as intimate as the LCT.
In a show like this it would be easy to overdo everything, but the behind-the-scenes crew here has done an admirable job keeping things low-key but effective. Barbara Wasson's choreography is somewhat simple, though she admittedly has a relatively small space for her dancers to work in. The same goes for scenic designer Jack Reigle, whose minimalist approach works in a show where scenery could easily be thrown into overkill.
Overall it's a nice bit of community theater and a great way to cap off the LCT's year. Here's hoping next season can deliver the promise of "Kiss Me Kate."