PTC cofounder JaceSon Barrus and 25-Plaza-productions veteran Daron Cockerell are back and in fine voice as usual as the leads in this musical that is a “play within a play,” a theatrical device whereby the main story calls for the actors to present a secondary story by way of a play, which reveals character flaws or other traits of the actors in the main play.
G. Aaron Siler, left, plays Second Man, and Michael Durington is First Man, a couple of thugs who must perform in a Shakespeare play, in the Plaza Theatre Company's production of "Kiss Me, Kate," playing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 12 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne. (COURTESY STACEY GREENAWALT)
Perhaps two of the most widely known examples of a “play within a play” are “Man of La Mancha,” in which Don Quixote's fantasies are acted out by his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition, and “Singing in the Rain,” where Donald O'Conner and Debbie Reynolds are always singing and dancing in rehearsal mode for another show.
It must work because it sure is used a lot.
Barrus and Cockerell (who long ago both earned asterisks next to their names in the playbill, denoting their membership in the PTC 20 Club of those who have participated in 20 or more PTC productions) are joined by PTC veteran Jonathan Metting, fresh off his Column Award for best supporting actor in Metroplex live stage for PTC's “Dear Ruth,” and newcomer Carlee Cagle, a tall and athletic performer with a pleasant voice.
Barrus and Cockerell starred opposite each other before in PTC's “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “Ragtime,” and their comfort with, confidence in and respect for each other is obvious.
That familiarity with each other allows Cockerell plenty of time to get off some zingy one-liners without Barrus stepping on her lines, and also gives Barrus equal opportunity.
In front from left, Ashlyn Keith and Nicole McDonald, and in back, Stacey Greenawalt, Kristi Taylor and Brittany Holcomb are members of the ensemble in the Plaza Theatre Company's production of "Kiss Me, Kate," playing Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 12 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne. (COURTESY STACEY GREENAWALT)
Barrus is featured in seven Cole Porter songs, and while he is equally good at serious acting or comedy, this may be his best singing performance of all the 51 PTC shows in which he has appeared.
The musical opens on the bare stage of Baltimore's Ford Theatre in June 1948. A troupe of traveling actors is rehearsing for their musical version of Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew,” starring Fred Graham (Barrus) and his ego as Petruchio, and his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Cockerell) as Katharine, the shrew to be tamed.
However, troupe member Bill Calhoun (Metting), who is also in the “other” play, has a gambling problem that is threatening his relationship with Lois Lane (Cagle), who is Bianca in the “Taming” play.
Calhoun loses a betting bundle and signs Graham's name to the IOU. That's when thugs First Man (Michael D. Durington) and Second Man (G. Aaron Siler) show up to collect the debt and become part of the troupe.
Durington and Siler's version of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is a hoot and the best example of the double and triple rhyming that is part of the dialogue and lyrics throughout the play.
Other recognizable and enjoyable musical numbers include “Another Op'nin' Another Show,” “Wunderbar,” “So in Love,” and “Kiss Me, Kate.”
Barrus, Cagle, Cockerell and Metting are a delight singing and clowning in “We Open in Venice,” and Cagle shows why this is only her first of many more PTC appearances in “Always True to You (In My Fashion).”
She is in top form as the eye of the storm created by Metting, Jesse Bowron and Levi King, who swirl around her vying for affection in the lively “Tom, Dick or Harry.”
Choreographer Tiffany Mullins has Metting, Cagle and the ensemble doing some neat dance routines in the 160-seat theatre-in-the-round, but I thought a couple of dance routines were a little longer than necessary in the almost 2 and 1/2-hour performance that includes a 15-minute intermission.
While the dancers were fancy on their feet, I was getting antsy in my seat.
Robert Shores provides a perfect “by the book” military man who is supposed to marry Lilli, but is more in love with his career. The role is double-cast with Luke Hunt, who I don't have to see to know he does a good job.
As with any G. Aaron Siler-directed effort, watch how the actors on the periphery remain engaged, either with facial expressions, fake talk or both.
The thing about “a play within a play” is you get to see two shows for the price of one. And at the Plaza, that's always a good deal.
With music and lyrics by Cole Porter, from a book by Bella and Samuel Spewack, with musical direction by Cheri Dee Mega, costumes by Kara Barnes, sound and lights by Siler and set design by Barrus and Siler, “Kiss Me, Kate” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays at the Plaza Theatre, 111 S. Main St. in Cleburne.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older and high school and college students, and $13 for children age 13 and under — and can be purchased online at www.plaza-theatre.com, or at the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, or by phone at 817-202-0600.