If only former married couple Lillie and Fred could stop bickering, they might have a hit show on their hands. And along the way, they may even realize they still love each other.
THAT'S THE main premise behind "Kiss Me, Kate," Centreville High's spring musical. Based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," it features a cast of 80 talented thespians, including several members of the school's Show Choir and some experienced dancers. Choral director is Lynne Babcock and choreographer is Jen Koonce.
It takes the stage Thursday-Saturday, April 27, 28 and 29, at 7:30 p.m. each night, plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are $10 at the door. And it promises to be something special.
"This is probably the most challenging show we've ever done," said Theater Director Mark Rogers. "It involves singing, dancing and acting, and not only musical theater, but Shakespeare — and Shakespeare, alone, is a daunting task. But it's exciting to see the actors rise to the challenge."
Junior Maggie Burrus, 17, plays Lillie Vanessi, who portrays the character "Katherine" in a show about to open in 1950s' Baltimore. "I used to be married to Fred, the playwright and director," explained Burrus. "It's opening night, and things aren't quite coming together in our show, and there's also drama backstage. The show's about me and Fred reconciling our differences, but we fight the whole time — even on stage, in front of everyone."
Lillie and Fred co-star in the show, in which he's supposed to marry her. "But I'm the shrew," said Burrus. "I'm difficult, I have no interest in men, and my sister's gorgeous and everyone wants to be with her. I'm hell on wheels, throwing things and yelling. I really care about Fred, but I'm stubborn and don't want to give in."
Since her part has lots of layers, Burrus says it's fun developing her character, balancing Lillie's anger and tenderness and "playing someone who's so up front with her emotions. There's so much subtext to her, and she really does care about this man she used to be married to. She also has some really great songs to sing. In Show Choir, I'm a soprano, and my voice is my strength."
Burrus especially likes singing, "I Hate Men," because it's so hilarious, and "Kiss Me, Kate" which she sings with Fred and the chorus. Her favorite song is the romantic "So In Love" because "I love singing ballads and pulling the emotion out of a song. It's a challenge because you have to act it out, too."
SENIOR Jamal Crowelle, 17, portrays Fred Graham, who he describes as a strong, powerful man who likes controlling everything. "It's why he so likes directing," said Crowelle. "He also wants to be the best actor. But he hasn't put on a good show since he and Lillie divorced. He hasn't figured out that he needs Lillie to be whole, so he has the aura of a powerful director, but the essence is gone — and he doesn't find that out until the end of the show."
Fred wants people to wait on him, and his huge ego is one of the things that drove Lillie away, while her nasty tamper drove him away. "I'm having lots of fun doing this part," said Crowelle. "Being the lead, you have to know your lines and songs and, because I find that challenging, I think it's fun."
He's also pleased that he gets to illustrate what actors go through to put on a show and play a character to whom he can really relate. His favorite song is, "Where is the Life that, Late, I led?"
"I love singing that song because it's got lots of comedy in it," said Crowelle. "Katherine has shut the door on the wedding chamber and doesn't want me in there. I start singing because I can't do anything; now that I'm married, I feel trapped. So I'm singing about all the people I used to love." A tenor in Show Choir, he added, "I also like to sing and show off my voice."
And he firmly believes the audience will love this musical. "We put on good shows," he said. "And if everybody does what they should do, the audience will really enjoy it."
Portraying Hattie, Lillie's dresser, is senior Blake Day, 18. "I'm star struck about her, but have a secret romance with Paul, who's Fred's dresser," said Day. "I'm genuine and really proud of Lillie's achievements." She also loves being in Centreville's cast.
"It's such a blast," she said. "We get along really well and the chemistry's awesome. I get to sing the opening number, and I can relate to Hattie because she's part of the hustle-bustle and background of the show. She's preparing for a show, and I know the stress she's under."
THE HARDEST thing about her role, said Day, was "creating her personality, myself, because the lines don't give her away." Calling "Kiss Me, Kate" upbeat and funny, she said the audience will enjoy figuring out all the intertwining love triangles and it will be colorful and fun to watch.
Senior Sergio Lopez, 17, plays Paul. "He's flirtatious and is a nice, all-around good guy who likes to have fun," said Lopez. "It's the role I went out for because I get to sing the song, 'Too Darn Hot,' which lets me incorporate my love of music; I'm a baritone in the choir. And it's a fast and moving song, enjoyable to sing."
He said the audience will like the characters' relationships with each other and will identify with the spats between Fred and Lillie, and Paul and Hatte. And, said Lopez, "The songs all have hidden meanings for the audience to figure out."
Playing Bill Calhoun is senior Brian Marchetti, 18, a Broadway gypsy who goes from show to show, dancing in the chorus. "But he gambles his money away, so he always needs to be in shows," said Marchetti. "He has a leading role in Fred's musical of 'The Taming of the Shrew' because his girlfriend got him the part. He's a lovable, nice guy."
Marchetti likes his role because he gets to dance and act. He's taken voice lessons since fourth grade and also takes outside dance and acting lessons, besides being enrolled in the Fairfax Academy's musical-theater performance class.
"You have to be a true, triple-threat in this show," he said. "And it's the only male role that has lots of singing, dancing and acting, so I get to Utilize all my talents." He said the audience will enjoy this musical because it's a classic one written by Cole Porter — "one of the greatest, musical-theater composers of all time."
Senior Natalie Carneal plays Gangster No. 2, plus Bill's girlfriend Lois in the matinee performance. She said it's fun portraying a gangster because "I get to play a tough girl, rough up the characters and use a Brooklyn accent. Bill loses $10,000 gambling and signs Fred's name to his IOU, so me and another gangster come to collect the money."
Since "Kiss Me, Kate" is a musical, said Carneal, "We're like comic relief. We're not hard-core gangsters; we're high-class gangsters. And we start to like Fred and the theater and actually get to act in his show. The song we sing is called, 'Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
Playing Sally, the stage manager of the play Fred's putting on, is senior Victoria Badecker, 17. And for the matinee, she plays Baptista, the mother of Lillie and her younger sister Lois (Bill's girlfriend). "Sally is worried and nervous about the show, but forceful, at the same time," said Badecker. "I love it because she's in a high-stress situation, and I enjoy being able to play that."
AS BAPTISTA, she said, "I try to push off my older daughter to get married before her younger sister. It's fun to change up roles." Badecker said the audience will like "Kiss Me Kate's" energy, and "the songs are phenomenal and will really catch people's attention." Her favorite song is "Tom, Dick or Harry," because it's such a funny song in a funny scene.
Senior Carrie Williams, 17, plays Lois. "She's a very quirky, bubbly character — a dancer who wants to be the center of attention," said Williams. "Her goal is to be on Broadway. Her love interest is Bill, but she's flirting with Fred to make Bill jealous."
Williams is also Burrus' understudy for the role of Lillie, and she loves both parts. "I'm really lucky because I get to play both of the leads, and it's exciting," she said. "I like to sing, dance and act, all at the same time, and I always wanted to do the whole, Broadway thing." In Show Choir, she sings soprano and alto.
She said it's difficult taking on two major roles and learning all the lines for each one. And dancing is lots of hard work. But, she said, "It's worth it." Her favorite song is "Why Can't You Behave?" She sings it to Bill and says "it's fun to be able to sing with Brian." And she, too, says the audience will like all the dancing, singing and acting, the various characters and "the fact that it's a show within a show."
Stage manager for "Kiss Me, Kate" is freshman Jess Starr, 14. During rehearsals, she said, "I stay on book, in case anybody needs to call for lines, and I write down the blocking." She also runs back and forth, making sure everybody's in place and things are running smoothly. And, added Starr, "It's so cool because I have the power to tell people what to do, and they do it."
Junior Matt Karrenbauer, 17, is a master carpenter on the tech crew of some 15 students. He's in charge of building a set with multiple pieces to rotate for the different scenes. It'll be a Shakespearean-era town with a two-story balcony.
"And when it rotates, you'll see the backstage area of the actors in the show," he said. "There's also a scene outside in the alleyway. Since the set requires two stores, it has to be structurally sound. And we don't have a lot of room for it in the wings, so we have to think outside the box, compact it and make the most of what we have."
Centreville's fall play also had a two-story, rotating set. "During intermission, no one in the audience left," said Karrenbauer. "Instead, they stayed to watch the tech crew move the set. So we're hoping this will have the same awe effect."
He said the tech crew works well as a team and is "a critical aspect of the play that people sometimes take for granted. They expect the lights and scenery to be there, but somebody has to do it."