Cayman Ilika has been wowing Seattle audiences for many years now. She was nominated for a Gregory Award for her role as MARY POPPINS at Village Theatre, and most recently starred as Anne Elliot in the premiere of PERSUASION at Taproot Theatre, but her local credits extend wide and deep. She’s currently starring opposite the uber-talented Ben Davis in the 5th Avenue Theatre’s new production of KISS ME, KATE, Cole Porter’s 1948 musical masterpiece. With memorable Broadway standards like “Too Darn Hot”, “So in Love” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” this production is sure to entertain audiences old and new. I caught one of the final previews and then had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting briefly with Cayman before the show opened for a backstage glimpse of what it has been like for her to work on this beloved Broadway classic. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
DAVID Hsieh: So, how’s the show going?
CAYMAN ILIKA: Oh, it’s so great! It’s been such a fulfilling and delightful process.
DAVID: You’ve been in technical rehearsals all week. Any major last-minute staging changes take place his past week?
CAYMAN: There are quite a few little tweaks but nothing super major. We just changed the end of Act 1 a little bit today…Tightened up some lines and what not. It’s been an exciting week, but not too crazy.
DAVID: For audiences who know nothing about KISS ME, KATE, and without giving away too many spoilers, what’s the show about?
CAYMAN: I think it’s a real love letter to the American Theater. It’s about a divorced couple who are both actors and are secretly still in love with one another…trying to reignite their careers by coming together one last time to put on a musical version of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHEW, and it’s mostly about the backstage hijinks and the battle between these two leading actors in trying to rekindle their careers and relationship.
DAVID: Who do you play and what do you enjoy the most about your character?
CAYMAN: I play Lilli Vanessi, and what I love about her is she is unapologetic, which I am not in life. (laughs.) It’s something I’m working on, I’m trying to become more unapologetic. And she’s in touch with her rage, which has been a real exciting experience for me cause I’m not a very confrontational person. She’s very happy to confront people, so it’s really been so much fun getting in touch with that rage and just owning the stage and her self. It’s really, really cool to play a powerful woman who’s not sorry to be powerful.
DAVID: What’s been the most challenging aspect of performing your role?
CAYMAN: Definitely the fact that I couldn’t be more different than Lilli in a lot of ways. That has been a huge, exciting hurdle to overcome. It’s also very vocally taxing to be shouting, and, you know, I use quite a bit of my range. I go up to a high D-flat and I sing like a low F or something. It’s just a huge challenge…I mean I will need to basically live in a bubble, not see people or talk to people, or go out…Certainly, I have to maintain perfect health to be capable of doing the show. It’s very, very demanding. I’ve never been so tired in my life. And I played Mary Poppins, which was a behemoth of a role. And I thought I’d never be as tired as I was when I did that show, but this is much harder because, you know, Mary Poppins is very reserved, and there’s something about unleashing your rage in a 2000-seat house that just takes it out of you. (Laughs) We’ve only already done a two-show day once so far, but by the end of that day I feel I look like I’ve been dipped in a lake. I’m like soaking wet with sweat, and just completely exhausted. So, it’s just going to be challenge. I’ve got to hydrate. Got to be quiet. Got to keep up the proteins so I can make it through. It’s a really demanding show.
DAVID: Well at least they feed you a banana every day in the show. (Chuckles)
CAYMAN: Oh yeah. And I love eating the banana on stage. If there’s going to be something to eat on stage and sing, the banana is the least offensive thing to me…It’s really the perfect stage food. (Laughs)
DAVID: What’s your favorite moment in the show?
CAYMAN: Well my favorite number in the show is “Tom, Dick or Harry,” which I’m not in, but it features the amazing Robyn Hurder as Bianca, and these three men, Clyde Alves [Lucentio], Richard Peacock [Hortensio], and Con O’Shea-Creal [Gremio]. They just tap dance up a storm, and it’s just one of the most thrilling production numbers I’ve ever seen! The first time they did it in rehearsal I teared up because it was so exciting. It’s just everything you want from a show stopper. Robyn absolutely slays it, and they’re all such incredible artists. Their dancing is unreal, so it’s really fun for me to watch. My favorite number to perform is “I Hate Men.” It’s an exciting time to be singing that song, here in 2018. I’ve just not been given the opportunity to do a lot of comedic roles previously, so it’s exciting to get to tear-up the scenery and throw things, and screech, and give birth, and eat a banana. It’s really a delight. I just love singing that song.
DAVID: That was quite a fun scene. What do you hope that the audience will take with them after seeing the show? .. .Especially young audiences in this #MeToo era, people who aren’t familiar with the history of the show or even what it’s about. I mean, a lot of people think it’s just the musical version of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, but it’s really so much more than that.
CAYMAN: I agree! You know I think it’s a misconception, I believe, that people have that Lilli is changed by Fred at the end of the piece. I just absolutely disagree with that. I think Fred allows her to be this unapologetic, tempestuous creature that she needs to be. And Harrison, who she’s engaged to for the bulk of the show, does not allow that. If anything, I think that Harrison is Petruchio and Fred is not. Fred wants her to be herself.
DAVID: Yeah, I mean that’s what he loves about her.
CAYMAN: Right! What I hope that young audiences come away with is the feeling that it’s great to be a strong woman, you know? And that we should all be allowed to be our truest self. And I think that obviously the score is just so damn great. I think people will also leave with all of those wonderful melodies, and such clever lyrics, and leave with those beautiful songs in their minds.
DAVID: Well, it’s Cole Porter, you can’t help but walk out of the theatre, and for weeks afterwards, find yourself humming the songs.
DAVID: I think that’s the magic of his writing.
DAVID: So regarding the character General Harrison Howell [played by local treasure Allen Fitzpatrick}, did you guys make any script changes to update his lines, or were those from the original text?
CAYMAN: No! Those gun lines were from the revival script [Broadway 1999] ….I think those gun line are pretty shocking, in how it plays today, You would think that we changed it, but we did not.
DAVID: That’s amazing! Are there any updates or changes that you guys have made to the show since you guys started rehearsals?
CAYMAN: Well, me spanking Fred is not in the original version. That was all the genius of Alan Paul, our wonderful, wonderful director…He’s found some really clever ways to navigate what can certainly be viewed as some of the more difficult aspects of the show.
DAVID: Well kudos to you…I think you’re brilliant. Everything I’ve ever seen you in has just been extraordinary, from PATSY CLINE at Centerstage to this. The 5th Avenue is very lucky to have you in this show.
CAYMAN: Oh my god, thank you! I feel very lucky and I’m very happy to be doing this….Whee! I’m excited!
KISS ME, KATE runs through April 29th at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. And interested readers will be happy to note that this new production has also added some LGBTQ elements to the staging of this multiple award-winning Broadway chestnut. Brush up your Shakespeare and go check out some toe-tapping Cole Porter!