By Darlene Donloe
Watching Wayne Brady do his thing on stage is pure entertainment.
The moment he steps foot on the stage, the magic begins.
Brady, a five-time Emmy Award winner, is one of those triple-threat performers. You know the type. He’s one of the chosen few who got an extra helping of talent. He can dance, he can sing and he can act.
He puts his talents to good use in Cole Porter’s Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate, now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse through October 12.
His charismatic personality, quick wit, impeccable timing and ability to engulf a stage is like a bolt of lightning. It’s electric.
In the play, Brady plays Fred/Petruchio to Merle Dandridge’s (Broadway’s Spamalot and Tarzan) Lilli/Kate. The two of them together are like a breath of fresh air every time they are on stage.
Wayne Brady and Merle Dandridge
Dandridge nearly brings down the house with laughter with her rendition of I Hate Men. Brady demonstrates his vocal ability with I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua, Were Thine That Special Face, Where Is The Life That Late I Led and, of course, Kiss Me, Kate.
Throw in some other Cole Porter classics like, So In Love, Another Op’nin’ Another Show, Too Darn Hot and Brush Up Your Shakespeare and you’ve got a show.
Kiss Me, Kate is a Broadway musical and was also made into a 1953 MGM film adaptation. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, the show tells the tale of musical theater actors, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, who were once married and are now performing opposite each other in the roles of Petruchio and Katherine in a Broadway-bound musical version of William Shakespeare's play.
It sounds a bit confusing, but the show within a show is an infectious romp.
The nearly all-black cast generates enough energy to light up the city of Pasadena, especially in the second act’s opening number, Too Darn Hot.
Rogelio Douglas and Jenelle Lynn Randall
Sheldon Epps has fashioned a sexy, smoldering, smart and well-paced show with a stellar cast. There are numerous standouts in the production, including Joanna A. Jones who plays Lois/Bianca. Jones nearly steals the show with her rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion and Tom, Dick or Harry. Jenelle Lynn Randall heats up the stage with her sizzling vocals including the opening song, Another Op’nin’, Another Show and Too Darn Hot – also featuring the fierce vocals of Rogelio Douglas.
Brad Blaisdell and David Kirk Grant add the laughs as Thug #2 and Thug #1 respectively.
Epps’ direction is crisp, the music speaks for itself, the costumes (David K. Mickelsen), set (John Iacovelli) and lighting (Jared A. Sayeg) enhance the show. The choreography (Jeffrey Polk) is fun and the band (Rahn Coleman, David Witham, Sal Lozano, Mark Converse, Ryan Cross, Dave Ryan, Nolan Shaheed, Brent Crayon and Jane Zwerneman) is tight.
Pucker up and spend a fantastic evening at the theater with Kiss Me, Kate!
Several celebrities were in the opening night audience, including Dawnn Lewis (A Different World), James Pickens, Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy), Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue), Jason George (Grey’s Anatomy) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle).
The opening night performance was held in conjunction with the Wells Fargo Theatrical Diversity Project fundraising event honoring Golden Globe and Emmy-winner Diahann Carroll, who was in attendance.
Also in attendance was 99 ½-year-old actress Patricia Morison, who originated the role of Kate and actress Ann Jeffreys, who headlined the first national tour in the role of Kate.
(l-r) Armando Yearwood, Pat Towne, Kimberly Moore, Theresa Murray, Joanna A. Jones, Wayne Brady, Carlton Wilborn, Eric B. Anthony, Saudia Rashed, Jay Donnell, Shamicka Benn-Moser.
Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Sheldon Epps, stars Wayne Brady, Merle Dandridge, Joanna A. Jones, Terrance Spencer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Rogelio Douglas, Jr., David Kirk Grant, Brad Blaisdell and Pat Towne.
The ensemble features Eric B. Anthony, Jay Donnell, Kimberly Moore, Shamicka Benn-Moser, Theresa Murray, Saudia Rashed, Carlton Wilborn and Armando Yearwood, Jr.
On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah), E (excellent), Kiss Me, Kate get an E (excellent).
Kiss Me, Kate, Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 4 and 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 and 7 p.m. Sun. through Oct. 12; $57-$145; 626 356-7529 or PasadenaPlayhouse.org.
**all photos by Earl Gibson III