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Opening night is Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Center left, Keeley Anderson as Kate/Lilli and center right, Dane Shroy as Petruchio/Fred, perform in the WLHS production of 'Kiss Me Kate.'A quaint series of old brick buildings and wooden doors grace the stage at West Linn High School. On stage left is a coy combination of star-crossed lovers and unruly exes. On stage right is a comical pair of gangsters.

The scene and cast of 27 students are from West Linn High School’s “Kiss Me Kate.” The play opens Nov. 8 and is the first of five productions throughout the school year.

The Tony award-winning play first opened in 1951 and features music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The story was turned into the 1953 film starring Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel.

The play tells the story of a musical theater troupe performing William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” and the conflict on and off stage between actors Fred Graham — the show’s director, producer and star — and his leading lady and ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi. The couple’s emotional war threatens the production’s success and the only thing keeping the show together is threats from a pair of gangsters who have come to collect a gambling debt. Slapstick madness and classical song and dance numbers ensue.

“I wanted to do a bigger, more classic musical this year to give the students more opportunity and present a different type of show for the community,” said Theater Arts Director Jessica Middleton-Murray, noting that the play is part of the 2012-13 season theme: Classics reinvented and reinvigorated.

“There is a lot of value to these older musicals and it’s really fun to watch the younger generation of students connecting and rediscovering the music,” she said.

The play is directed by Middleton-Murray. Barbara Fontana is the vocal director, Kevin Egan is the music director and conductor, Nancy Monson is the accompanist, Annie Kaiser is the costume designer and Jon Ares is the set and lighting designer.

Many actors are presented with the challenging task of performing two characters — a character within the play, and a character within the play, within the play. Murray said older generations will be familiar with the classic film and beloved Cole Porter music. She added that audience of all ages will appreciate the jazz choreography and window into the backstage world — the off-stage drama and silliness — of theater.

“It’s a great show. We have some very talented dancers, singers and actors,” she said. “Our two senior boys playing gangsters and performing ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ are going to bring the house down.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Annie Roethe performs jazz choreography in the production of 'Kiss Me Kate.' Senior Jennie Warmack plays Lois Lane and Bianca. In years past, Warmack has played the lead role in “Urinetown” and “The Sound of Music.” Warmack describes Lois as a budding star who grew up in the country and uses her womanly advances to land a role in the show.

“She’s a bit promiscuous,” Warmack said. “She’s just a bunch of fun. She’s great to flirt with the audience.”

Warmack said the combination of singing and dancing is vigorous and requires diaphragm control, but mostly, finding the subtext to her character has been most challenging.

“It’s easy to play her really shallow,” she said. “But I’m interested in finding the depth to her.”

Senior Preston Stutznegger plays Man 1, a gangster threatening character Fred Graham for $10,000. Stutznegger has been in productions such as “The Sound of Music” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” He said at times it’s difficult to perform in an accent with rattling dialogue.

“This is my first time playing such a threatening character. It’s very fun,” he said. “It’s different because I’m usually playing a character I can relate to. I have nothing in common with him other than being funny.”

The production also features the leading roles of junior Keeley Anderson as Lilli Vanessi/Kate, freshman Evan Shely as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio and senior Chase Staskiewcz as Man 2.

The production also features a larger-than-normal cast of freshmen. The class is just so exciting, Middleton-Murray said.

“This play is such an incredible investment into our program. So many young actors are getting an incredible dose of experience. ... We hold these kids to a really high standard and I think they rise to it.”

Freshman Dane Shroy plays the lead role of Fred Graham. Shroy played the Pirate King in the middle school production of “Pirates of Penzance” last year. Shroy said his character is arrogant and wants everything to be perfect — but it rarely happens. He said the experience in his first high school production has been “eye opening.”

“This is just my second role ever,” he said. “Getting this role was so much of a shock. I didn’t know how to react at first.”

Murray said Shroy and the rest of the young cast of “Kiss Me Kate” have been “thrown into the deep end” but they’re still swimming.

“It just goes to show if you really give a kid an opportunity, they can still surprise you,” she said. “In three years these kids are going to be incredible.”

Watch “Kiss Me Kate” Nov. 8-10 and Nov 15-17 at 7 p.m. in the West Linn High School auditorium. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults and can be purchased online at wlhstheatre.org or at the PAC box office.

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