Too darn hot

South Mecklenburg High School theater director Bonnie Hall spent the past five years playing it safe.

Students from South Mecklenburg High School will take the stage next week for the premiere of “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Students from South Mecklenburg High School will take the stage next week for the premiere of “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Hall co-directs the school’s annual musical theater productions, which have previously included popular, upbeat musicals like “The Wiz” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” But Hall hopes to shake things up in a big way this year with the classic musical “Kiss Me, Kate.”

The show runs March 27 to 30, Thursday to Sunday, with 7 p.m. performances Thursday to Saturday and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets will be available at the door and cost $10.

Hall chose the show to give her students a broader background of the musical theater culture, and also to introduce a different type of show to community members who attend South Meck’s annual productions.

“The biggest thing is finding a show that’s going to fit a high school, but also going to give the idea of a real professional experience, ultimately teaching (students) how to do this in the real world,” Hall said.

Set in the 1940s, “Kiss Me, Kate” features music and lyrics by Cole Porter and is a “show-within-a-show” concept. Characters in the show are putting on their own performance of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” As the show unfolds, the “Kiss Me, Kate” characters begin to parallel characters from the classic Shakespeare play – for an “art imitates life” theme.

“The depth of the show is a different experience for the kids,” Hall said. “…It’s giving the opportunity for students to experience a classic piece, to understand the realm of classic musical theater.”

The production features about 40 student performers and several students who’ll work backstage and handle the technical aspects of the show. A mostly-student pit orchestra will provide live accompaniment under the direction of teacher Marc Setzer during the show.

Hall said a show that’s almost entirely student led comes with some challenges, but watching the students grow and develop from the first rehearsal to the final performance gives her a sense of satisfaction.

“Watching the kids take the vision that’s in my brain, that I’ve tried to conceptualize, and portray it through themselves … makes the production, for me,” Hall said.

Senior Jacob Plaisted, 18, attended South Meck’s productions each year but was never involved in a show until this year. Jacob will play the role of Baptista, a father of two very different daughters – one who’s “sweet (and) innocent” and another he refers to as a “devil child.”

“He’s very stressed out all the time, kind of dealing with all the craziness of his two daughters,” Jacob said of his character.

Jacob’s favorite thing about being in the show is the friendships he’s developed along the way, which he believes adds to the quality of the production.

“Most of the people in the show, I didn’t know before (doing) the show,” he said. “I’ve developed some pretty good friendships. It’s about the teamwork thing and being focused all together to make (the show) good.”

Senior Ashley Holliday, 18, plays the dance captain in “Kiss Me, Kate” but also serves as the real-life dance captain for South Meck’s show, helping actors learn, tweak and perfect the choreography.

“A lot of people are more actors and singers. Some people haven’t had training in dance,” she said. “It’s hard to get everyone to be on the same page sometimes, but it’s been a lot of fun because everyone’s improved so much.”

One of the reasons why “Kiss Me, Kate” is a daring choice for South Meck is the subject matter, theater director Bonnie Hall said. The school has rated the show PG-13 “cuz it’s too darn hot” – a slogan borrowed from the Broadway revival of the production. But Hall said it’s not what audience members will hear and see on stage that targets a more mature audience – it’s the heavy themes within the production.

“It’s not about ‘inappropriate’ – it’s about Shakespeare,” Hall said of the show’s rating. “It’s been a fun process, but it’s been a challenging process because it is so deep. There’s so much depth.”

Despite the heavy thematic content, the show is full of humor, Hall said, and audience members can expect to laugh and have a good time.

“It’s all comedy. There are a lot of bit parts in it – gangsters, gamblers,” she said. “It’s a good quality, classic, fun musical.”

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