East Carolina University seniors Robert DiDomenico and Amanda Higgins are pulling double duty in the upcoming production of “Kiss Me, Kate.”
Each will play two roles in the School of Theatre and Dance’s latest production of the 2014-2015 ECU/Loessin Playhouse season.
It’s a play-within-a-play, the story of a divorced couple, both actors, performing Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The onstage and behind-the-curtain antics of the feuding couple get more complicated when thugs arrive to collect a gambling debt from another actor.
Amanda Higgins, left, in the roles of Lilli Vanessi and Kate, performs with Robert DiDomenico in the roles of Fred Graham and Petruchio. Students performed in dual roles in the ‘play-within-a-play’ production of ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’
DiDomenico plays Fred Graham, the director who cast himself in the production, and Petruchio from “Shrew.” Higgins plays Fred’s ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, and Kate in the Elizabethan classic.
“It is challenging in the sense of two different styles of character and acting they have to do,” said Director John Shearin.
“It’s one more character you get to play,” said DiDomenico, who enjoys the dynamics of switching between characters. “I’m an actor playing an actor playing a Shakespearean character. It’s a lot of fun.”
The play is said to be loosely based on a real Broadway couple (though never divorced) - Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne - who acted from the early to mid-1900s. They were famous for their demanding work ethic and on-and off-stage fights, DiDomenico said. “Supposedly they would go right from the dressing room onto the stage,” Shearin said. “Nobody’s sure it’s the case, but it makes a great story.”
One of those scenes is the actors’ favorite. “We get in a fist fight,” Higgins said. “Fred has not broken character, and he’s trying to keep the scene together.”
Because there are, in general, fewer opportunities for women to fight in a leading role, the stage combat is enjoyable, Higgins said. “It’s the most fighting I’ve done in a role,” she said.
While first written and produced in the 1940s, the play’s themes still hold true today. “I hope the audience will leave with an appreciation for the older musicals. Even though it was written in the 40s, I think it’s still very relatable to a younger audience,” Higgins said.
“If you’ve ever had a fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you can relate to this,” said DiDomenico, a New York native who grew up in Raleigh.
With more than 100 students in the cast, crew, orchestra and stage management – as well as several supporting faculty members – the musical comedy is one of the largest productions of the academic year, Shearin said.
“The excellence of our students’ work and how they meet very difficult challenges, not only meet them, but overcome them, and present difficult material very well is the same kind of challenge that an athlete has,” Shearin said. “They rehearse 7 to 11 every night and six hours on the weekend. It’s really a strict regimen. You do have to take care of yourself.”
“The amount of preparation that goes into it – singing, acting, dancing – it hits you on all fronts,” said Higgins, a musical theater major from Fuquay-Varina.
Featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter and written by Bella and Samuel Spewack, “Kiss Me, Kate” won five Tony Awards in 1949 including the first award presented for best musical.
“I do hope people will come and enjoy,” Shearin said. “It’s beautifully rendered. The orchestra sounds fantastic.” ECU School of Music students are conducted by faculty member Scott Carter.
Performances will be held at 8 p.m. Nov. 20-22 and Nov. 24-25 and at 2 p.m. on Nov. 23 in McGinnis Theatre. Tickets are $17.50 for the public or $12 for ECU students and youth.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.ecuarts.com, call 252-328-6829 or go to the McGinnis Theatre Box Office located in the Messick Theatre Arts Center, open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
More than 100 ECU students and faculty were among the cast and crew supporting the production of 'Kiss Me, Kate.'