It’s time to “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” in grand style with all of the trimmings thanks to Light Opera Works’ spectacular production of this Cole Porter backstage musical that includes his best score and most erudite lyrics. And though the work itself is now sixty years old, coming after a long silence and even some flops at the end of Porter’s long career and only taken on because of tax problems, he pulled out all of the stops for it and was able to succinctly sum up in a single work all that his art had developed into over decades as the top tunesmith of both Broadway and Hollywood. Most productions tend to either concentrate on the work’s gut-busting comedy, as the most recent Broadway revival did to great success, or the sumptuous score, as do the many productions mounted regularly by opera companies, but it is a rare production that can pull off both: this Light Opera Works production, however, has it all. Kudos to the luxurious casting of superb soprano Stacey Tappen as actress Lilli Vanessi, who not only can break your heart when she sings “So in Love” in clarion tones, but as Katherine in Porter’s mock musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” can bring off riotous resentment, comedy and sight gags in “I Hate Men.” Those who can really sing this role can rarely pull off its physical comedy, and those who can usually end up compromising its musical demands, but Tappen brings off both to great avail. Larry Adams is the perfect foil for Tappen as her ex-husband, current director, sparring partner and co-star in “Shrew,” able to be poignant, conniving and ever so delightfully overripe as an actor too full of himself. Light Opera Works’ artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller wisely lets the work itself call all of the shots and gets out of its way as its director and choreographer and LOW music director is having a ball in the pit savoring every carefully crafted note and gag. So will you. (Dennis Polkow)
“Kiss Me, Kate” runs at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, (847)869-6300, through June 10. $28-$80.