November 4, 2009

Behind the Musical

With rollicking performances by an undergraduate cast, the classic Cole Porter show Kiss Me Kate is a hit at Balch Arena Theater

Story and slideshow by Taylor McNeil

Photos by Alonso Nichols

As the lights come up on Kiss Me Kate at Balch Arena Theater, the scene is backstage at a Baltimore playhouse, where a troupe is about to perform a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. In Cole Porter’s 1948 musical, love and its many complications are front and center, moved along by energetic singing and dancing.

Click the play button for an audio slideshow with director Barbara Wallace Grossman about Kiss Me Kate. Photos by Alonso Nichols

Directed by Barbara Wallace Grossman, associate professor and chair of the Department of Drama and Dance in the School of Arts and Sciences, the production features a cast of 22 undergraduates, supported by a pit orchestra led by musical director Jared Trudeau, A11, and a large number of collaborators, including choreographer Laura Espy, A06, fight director Kyna Hamill, G06, and stage manager Megan Sullivan, A10.

Putting on a production is almost a full-time job. Rehearsals started in mid-September, and for the last month, took place five days a week, four hours each day. But it didn’t daunt the students. “I’m amazed at how diligent, dedicated and responsible everybody is,” Grossman says.

“I love musicals,” Grossman says. “I feel somebody needs to stand up for this incredible genre and give the students the opportunity to be part of them. It really requires a great deal of skill to be convincing in a musical; you have to be able to sing, act and dance—often simultaneously.”

After directing a number of dramatic productions at Balch, Grossman says she’s happy to have a change of pace. “I said to the students at our first rehearsal that part of me feels guilty that I’m not doing a serious play that’s making a statement about the troubled world in which we live, and the kids sort of rolled their eyes,” she reports. “But I also said I think it’s important that people get to laugh and enjoy themselves. It’s so nice to do a show that just makes you feel good, where you can laugh.”

The show, which opened October 29, continues November 5, 6 and 7. For ticket information, call the theater box office at 617-627-3493. The remaining shows are sold out, but a limited number of standing-room-only tickets will be sold on the day of performance.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at Alonso Nichols can be reached at

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