KU's ‘Kiss Me Kate’ to bring ‘magic of theater’ to life

There is a special feeling to being onstage — the lights, the applause, the thrill of performing for friends and strangers alike. John Staniunas wants to share it with his audience.

“We’re going to take the audience for a ride,” he says of his new production of “Kiss Me Kate” that opens Kansas University Theatre’s 2013-14 season.

The 1949 Cole Porter classic tells the story of a troupe of actors attempting to put on a musical version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

“It’s a show within a show,” Staniunas says of the plot. “There’s the story of the musical and the story of the actors trying to stage it.”

Staniunas wants to really give the audience the experience of being in the show, so this production will actually seat patrons onstage.

“We’ll have them on the 40-foot revolve,” he says. “When they first come in and sit down, they’ll actually be facing the seats in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre. Then we’ll whirl them around throughout the show.”

If you go

“Kiss Me Kate” opens Friday and runs Saturday and July 18-21 at Stage Too! in Murphy Hall on the KU campus. Tickets cost $10-$15 and are available by calling the box office at 785-864-3982 or online at kutheatre.com.

The cast, meanwhile, will initially emerge just as modern actors.

“It’ll give the audience the chance to get to know who these people are,” Staniunas says.

Of course, putting the crowd onstage limits the available space. Thus, Staniunas only cast 11 actors — a small number for a show the size of “Kiss Me Kate.” He sees that as a strength of the production, though, not a weakness.

“Older musicals tend to be padded with a lots of extra production numbers,” he notes. “This smaller cast will help us put the focus back on the story.”

He sees it as an advantage for the actors too.

“It allows them to play a variety of roles,” he says. “All of them have multiple parts, so it will be more interesting to them and more interesting to the audience to watch.”

Not that audiences need a lot of help enjoying “Kiss Me Kate.” With classic songs like “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” it is one of Porter’s most beloved shows.

“The lyrics are so incredibly clever and funny,” Staniunas says. “It’s also the best musical adaptation of any Shakespeare play. It uses a lot of Shakespeare’s dialogue and adheres pretty closely to the plot.”

University Theatre is using the book for the 1999 revival of the show, which won four Tony Awards.

“They made a good story even stronger,” Staniunas says of the revival.

But the focus of “Kiss Me Kate” — both the marriage of Shakespeare and musical theater and the themes — remains.

“One of the things that hasn’t changed,” Staniunas says, “is that men and women have difficult relationships.”

And Staniunas plans to drop his audience right into the middle of that difficulty — of actors struggling to get along, of Petruchio trying to woo the shrewish Kate, and of the hardships and triumphs of getting a show onstage.

“It’s really about the magic of the theater,” Staniunas says.


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