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'Kiss Me Kate' asks 'Can he tame her?'

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and prepare for “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” because when “Kiss Me Kate” heats up the stage it’s going to be “Too Darn Hot.”

Those three songs, along with a slew of other classic Cole Porter tunes, are sure to be crowd-pleasers, said David Smith-English, the director of the musical, which opens at Clackamas Repertory Theatre on Aug. 3.

Although CRT is based in Oregon City at Clackamas Community College, it stars Happy Valley resident Leif Norby, familiar to Portland audiences since 1992, and Merideth Kaye Clark, who has just moved to Portland.

The two actors play dual roles, Norby as Fred/Petruchio, and Clark as Lilli/Kate, in the show, which is sort of a musical within a musical.

by:  PHOTO BY TRAVIS NODURFT -  Leif Norby, Merideth Kaye Clark, James Sharinghousen and Amelia Morgan-Rothschild get ready for some drama in CRTs upcoming 'Kiss Me Kate.'The plot revolves around a feuding theatrical couple, Fred and Lilli, who were once married to each other, and who now are starring in a musical production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

There is intense conflict onstage as Petruchio seeks to “tame Kate, marry her and live happily ever after, and then there is their relationship offstage, which mirrors what is happening onstage,” Smith-English said.

Leading roles

Smith-English has worked with Norby twice before at CRT, and said he would not even have attempted to direct this “big, hard show,” without Norby as the leading man.

“He sounds fabulous. Cole Porter’s songs really fit guys like Leif, with his high baritone voice,” Smith-English said.

“Kiss Me Kate” marks the Portland debut for Clark, who was last seen onstage here as Elphaba in the first national tour of the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

Originally from Kansas City, Mo., she earned a master’s degree in musical theater at San Diego State University, and it was in California where she began her career as a concert artist and musical theater performer. She has a host of theatrical credits all over the United States, so why come to Portland?

“It’s a love story,” she said, adding that she met a Portland guy when she was in Florida, and had a long-distance relationship for a year.

“I was doing a show Off Broadway, and when it closed I was ready to take a break from New York City. When I came to Portland on tour with ‘Wicked,’ it was my favorite spot on the tour,” she said, so she jumped at the opportunity to return.

When Clark auditioned for the role in “Kiss Me Kate,” she was “exactly what I was looking for. She has an incredible voice and wonderful vocal technique,” Smith-English said.

“She is such a good actor. When I tell her one thing, it’s done, and Leif is doing the same thing,” he said.

The two actors have an excellent rapport onstage, and they are able to bring out the humor in the script, while at the same time “when we stop for those touching moments, they mean something,” Smith-English said. “To hear them sing these songs is wonderful, and that alone is worth the price of admission.”

Leif Norby

Norby has performed at Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and Broadway Rose, among other theater groups in Portland.

He has wanted to play Fred/Petruchio in “Kiss Me Kate,” ever since he saw a production of it years ago. He also loved the movie version of “The Taming of the Shrew,” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

“Fred is a longtime actor, who has a lot of ego, but it comes from a very honest place. He loves what he does; it is everything to him,” Norby said.

He and Lilli have been divorced only for one year, and this is their first time back on a stage together since the split.

“The theater has been his whole world, but as the show progresses, Fred discovers that what is even more important to him is his relationship and love for Lilli. He didn’t realize this before. They really do belong together,” Norby said.

“I have been thoroughly enjoying the interplay with Merideth. As we flesh out these roles, it has been the most fun discovering these four characters,” he said.

Merideth Kaye Clark

It has always been her dream to live and perform in the same city, and when she was in New York City, she found herself on tour most of the time, so Portland is her new artistic home, Clark said. She already has lined up several more roles, including one in “Fiddler on the Roof,” for Portland Center Stage.

Lilli/Kate “has been on my bucket list of roles. She is one of the best female leads in the musical theater canon. I love the complexity of the role. I get to do some Shakespeare and some real conflict.”

Lilli is the “quintessential diva who demands attention and takes over a room when she walks in,” Clark said, adding, “Onstage she is a cantankerous Elizabethan woman, but as she plays that character with her ex-husband, she finds that underneath it all, they are still in love.”

Her favorite moment?

“Leif and I had a great time working out the fight scene amongst Shakespeare’s text. I get to slap him five times and it ends with him spanking me,” she said.

Which brings up a troubling point: How do you do “The Taming of the Shrew” for a modern audience, without seeming inappropriate?

Smith-English posed that question, and answered it by saying, “We’ve figured out how to do that. Shakespeare’s women always win.”

He added that the 1996 revival of the show has changed it from “a museum piece to an exciting piece. It feels very fresh and tempos are very fast. We celebrate the blatant theatricalness that we see going on here.”

Give 'em a kiss

What: Clackamas Repertory Theatre presents “Kiss Me Kate”

Where: Osterman Theatre at Clackamas Community College, 19600 S. Molalla Ave., Oregon City

When: Aug. 3 through Aug. 25; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Details: Tickets may be purchased by calling 503-594-6047 or at clackamasrep.org.

More: Merideth Kaye Clark will present a solo concert at the Osterman Theatre at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18. She will sing “People,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and other vocal classics, along with playing and singing her own original music.



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