For Ryan Cutlip, the role of Fred Graham is like coming home.
The Centerville, Ohio, native played the lead character in Kiss Me, Kate at Wright State University in Dayton, from which he graduated in 2001 with a bachelor of fine arts degree.
And when the show opens in the Stranahan Theater tonight, that will be like coming home, too.
"My brother and sister, who live in Columbus, and my mom and dad are coming up for it. And my aunt and uncle are going to come in Saturday from Cincinnati. All the Ohio connection is going to be heading to Toledo," he said by telephone from Los Angeles.
Although Kiss Me, Kate has been around more than half a century, the show continues to engage audiences, and Cutlip believes there are three reasons for that.
The first is its impeccable background: It's based on William Shakespeare's romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew.
The second is that the music is by Cole Porter.
The third is that musicals, by their very nature, get the audience involved.
"[Musicals] incorporate dance, singing, acting, all of the things that people enjoy seeing, into one show," Cutlip said. "Through the music and dancing, the characters can say more than they can by just using words."
And Kiss Me, Kate has plenty to say, because it's actually two shows in one.
Written by Samuel and Bella Spewack, the musical is about a troupe of performers rehearsing for a production of The Taming of the Shrew.
Playing the lead roles of Petruchio and Katharine in Shrew are Fred Graham, the show's producer, and Lilli Vanessi. Formerly husband and wife, the pair now bicker endlessly, all the
while understanding their importance to each other. Fred needs Lilli's name on his cash-strapped production, and Lilli needs a hit to prop up her fading glory.
In Shrew, the poor but ambitious Petruchio hopes to find a wealthy wife, and his eye settles on Katharine, a lovely woman whom no one will have because of her vicious temper and well-honed vocabulary. Anxious to get Kate off his hands, her father, Baptista, has decreed that it is inappropriate for his younger daughter, Bianca, who loves Lucentio, to wed until her sister has found a husband.
As Katharine and Petruchio engage in a battle of wits, so do Lilli and Fred, and as the former pair begin to fall in love, the latter begin to wonder if they were too precipitous in ending their relationship.
However, there are a few roadblocks on the way to bliss, including Kate's temper, an army general, and two very funny gangsters.
Porter's score for Kiss Me, Kate includes the classic songs "Another Openin', Another Show," "Wunderbar," "So in Love," and "Too Darn Hot."
Cutlip spoke highly of Emily Herring, who plays Katharine and Lilli, saying she has a beautiful operatic voice.
"She's a delight, and there's some very good chemistry between the two of us," he added.
Kiss Me, Kate is not the first professional show Cutlip has done. After graduation from Wright State, he worked in Dayton for about six months before moving to New York in early 2002. It wasn't long before he won an audition to play Cliff, the male lead, in a touring production of Cabaret. He did that for six or seven months, then auditioned for, and won the part of, Fred in Kiss Me, Kate, which he's been doing ever since.
He says he has no intention of leaving the show any time soon, but when he does, he'll move to New York and try to find his way into a show on Broadway. Somewhere down the line, he'd like to try his hand at another revival.
"I've always wanted to play J Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business ..., he said. "It's just a fun show, and I think it would be right up my alley."
And given the Enron, WorldCom, and Martha Steward business climate, the time might be right for a revival.
For now, though, Cutlip continues to find audiences to entertain as he juggles the roles of Fred and Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate, which he calls a show for all ages.
"If I had to, I'd probably go with a PG kind of rating. There's a tiny bit of language and some innuendo. But it's a very, very entertaining show. The cast is strong, the dancers are wonderful, the gangsters are great. The costumes are the same ones used in the Broadway revival.
"It's a great show visually, and it has all the creative rhymes of Cole Porter and William Shakespeare. I think people should definitely come out and see it."
'Kiss Me, Kate' opens at 8 tonight in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., and continues at 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $31 to $40 from Ticketmaster, 419-474-1333, and the Stranahan box office, 419-381-8851.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at firstname.lastname@example.org