By Jenn McKee
The Burns Park Players – a company (made up of more than 100 Burns Park students, parents, teachers, and neighbors) that stages one musical each year – look to hit their marks this weekend, with the community theater group’s 35th production, “Kiss Me Kate.”
With a hit-packed score by Cole Porter, “Kiss Me Kate” made big waves on Broadway when it premiered in 1948. Between enduring tunes like “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Wunderbar,” and “Too Darn Hot,” “Kate” tells the story of a divorced pair of actors who are constantly feuding while starring in a touring musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s war between the sexes, “The Taming of the Shrew.”
With a cast and crew that ranges in age from six to 98, BPP’s “Kate” will donate this weekend’s proceeds to performing arts programs and students in the Ann Arbor Public School system, and the show will be the first directed by professional theater artist and Eastern Michigan University professor Phil Simmons.
“It has been lots of fun to getting to know this amazing group of people who are professors, doctors, lawyers, and judges, but who all just love doing theatre,” said Simmons. “There are some families who have been doing this annually for 37 years, so there are moms and dads doing the show with their children – a cool family tradition!”
Like many past BPP productions, “Kiss Me Kate” is a show without obvious places to integrate the company’s youngest performers into the action.
“We all had many brainstorming sessions, just imagining which numbers could benefit by having cameos from the kids,” said Simmons. “At one time I think we had eight or nine possibilities, but then, when we considered the logistics, then that factor dictated the five numbers we chose.”
Of course, wrangling an enormous cast of various ages can pose its own set of difficulties.
“It was sometimes challenging just because of the sheer numbers, but I had four producers who were at every rehearsal – who have been involved in the the BPP for decades – to guide me through the personalities of the actors and the workings of this particular theatre company,” said Simmons.
And while BPP has a long tradition of staging mainly classic shows – this one definitely qualifies – the now-70-year-old “Kate” depicts gender and power in ways that many may find highly unnerving in our current #MeToo moment.
“We … changed the show choice a few times before landing on (‘Kate’),” said Simmons, who also carefully considered how to stage the musical’s most sexist moments. “ … My hope is that we’ve made those instances so over-the-top that it would be impossible for any audience to think we’re advocating inappropriate behavior. Our hope is, rather, that this will cause families to have conversations about how things are changing, and where we’re headed. It’s definitely a fine, fine line that directors and producers are having to deal with more and more every day.”
Performances dates are February 2, 3, and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and February 10 at 4 p.m. All shows are at Tappan Middle School Auditorium, 2251 E. Stadium Blvd. Tickets sales begin on January 19 at 6 a.m. at.
Jenn McKee is a freelance writer/editor who previously worked as an arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News. You can follow her blogs atand .
Photo by Myra Klarman