Friday, October 16, 2015

Kiss Me, Kate: The Voices

Anna Duchi as Lilli Vanessi
Kiss Me, Kate is often called a classic musical comedy. It’s from the American musical’s golden age, and it has stood the test of time in entertaining audiences and thrilling them with its songs. But in terms of the music itself, it also means a closer relationship to classical forms.

 “This is classic musical theatre,” said Elisabeth Harrington, musical co-director of the HSU production. “Voices are used in their full range—vocally and emotionally. There’s a lot of sustained singing and high singing. There are classical demands that today’s students may not be used to, so it’s a continuing challenge.”

 “At the same time, our students are totally digging the upbeat quality of the music, the jazz chords, the sexiness of songs like ‘Too Darn Hot.’ They love the comedy. They’re enjoying all the colors in Cole Porter that make his songs so unique. It helps them understand and embrace the difficulty of the vocal techniques involved, and that’s really neat to see.”

 The two leads—Anna Duchi as Lilli and Shakespeare’s Kate, Gino Bloomberg as Fred and Petruchio—are experienced singers as well as actors. “Anna Duchi has sung in the Mad River Transit jazz choir. She comes from a musical theatre family—her mother owns and operates a musical theatre in the Bay Area, so she has grown up with all kinds of music. Gino Bloomberg has been in tons of musical theatre locally. He’s studied voice for a long time, he’s grown up doing that.”

 But the show also features a fair amount of ensemble singing, which includes those who are primarily actors or dancers. “When I saw the scope of this—it’s a ton of music and it’s hard—I decided to approach this in a different way than I had before. I started with the whole group together learning the ensemble songs, rather than with the leads. Sometimes it’s a stretch for them but they’re really embracing it.”

 For some this includes joining voice classes. Nine members of the cast took private lessons from Harrington.

 Apart from operatic high notes, there are tempo changes, “tricky harmonies that are very tight, with syncopated rhythms,” and those famous Cole Porter lyrics, which include words and phrases in German and Italian.

 But experiencing the artistry of it is part of the excitement, for singers and the audience. “The songs are expertly crafted, and that shows through, regardless of the singers’ level of experience. That will be great for audiences, too, because they’re going to recognize the skill of the material itself.”

 “People know these tunes—even if they don’t know they are from this show. They’re going to love the production—the students are coming at it with such energy and enthusiasm.”

 “I’ve never actually been involved in a production of Kiss Me, Kate before," Harrington said. "I’ve sung songs from it and taught songs from it, but never got to go through every bar of music. It’s a real joy to be able to do it. It’s a beautiful score.”

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