(Above: At Broadway’s Studio 54, the Kiss Me Kate ensemble opens Act 2 with the 9-minute, 52-second showstopper Too Darn Hot; photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company)

Native Eugenean and former Register-Guard reporter Janelle Hartman has been making regular treks to New York City and its Broadway theaters since moving to the Washington, D.C., area in 1999.

By Janelle Hartman

I love musicals. The bigger and splashier the better. But I’ve rarely needed the therapy of zany, old-fashioned song-and-dance more than I did after spending last Saturday afternoon in an absurdist fall-of-Rome world oozing with gore, scatology and even more kookiness than the streets of NYC on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

Which is not to say I wasn’t entertained by Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Nathan Lane’s latest tour de force now in its preview run on Broadway.

Gary is smart but not revolutionary. Its thoughts and themes fall somewhere between the deep and shallow ends of a community pool. Mainly, it’s a 95-minute showcase for three comic savants, those being Lane and his two costars, Kristine Nielson and Julie White, who are literally cleaning up the post-mortem mess of Roman civil war.

Their dialogue wounds and soothes each other, woven between monologues that are equal parts wisdom and camp. It’s indisputably weird, and I advise anyone unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s brutal Titus Andronicus to heed the advice I didn’t: Read up on it before seeing the “sequel” even if it’s just the Wikipedia entry. I heard a guy behind me in the Booth Theatre say a friend who’d gone to one of the first previews (ours was just the fifth) “loved it, but didn’t understand a single word.”

The gasp-inducing tableau that grabs you when the curtain rises is worth the price of admission. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on stage. Without giving away too much, imagine a Roman emperor’s palatial banquet room repurposed as a morgue after the bloodiest of wars. It’s eye-popping. And unnerving.

It left me eager to bathe that night in the color and cheer and silliness of Kiss Me Kate, a risky choice for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s season in our #MeToo era. To the credit of the creative team, the 1948 musical felt appropriately updated from its last Broadway revival — one of the first shows I saw when my NYC theater hobby began in earnest 19 years ago.

The production’s high energy and fast pace swallowed me whole. All that activity camouflaged the flaws that critics nitpicked on opening night on March 14, such as The New York Times’ Jesse Green suggesting that “the second act seems to run out of invention.”

I’ll bet few theatergoers being treated to the Cole Porter songbook — enhanced by dazzling choreography and impossibly tireless dancers — are going to complain that it’s too much of a good thing.

In fact, I’d have loved more of it, in the way of an overture. They’re rare nowadays. Kiss Me Kate would have time for it, with about 25 minutes to spare before the clock strikes overtime for unionized cast, crew and musicians.

The knockout number is “Too Darn Hot,” and when the dancers collapse artfully after 10 thrilling minutes, you get the feeling that the 15-20 seconds or so they lie still is a physical imperative. It gave me time to think about important things, like how the jaw-dropping lead male dancer, a force of nature, must be able to eat 10,000 calories a day.

If you haven’t seen KMK, it’s a show within a show, a classic musical trope. Too Darn Hot opens Act 2, taking place in an alley behind the set’s theater in late-1940s Baltimore, where the famed performer Lilli Vanessi and her actor/producer ex-husband are starring in a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

Tony winner and six-time nominee Kelli O’Hara plays Lilli and the incorrigible “shrew” Katherine (Kate). O’Hara’s been a favorite of mine since her breakout role opposite John Lithgow in The Sweet Smell of Success in 2002.

KMK has a limited run at Studio 54, the infamous 1970s nightclub on 54th Street that Roundabout turned into its marquee theater. It’s where I first saw the electrifying Cabaret — four times in 2001-02 — and I’ve probably been there more often than any other Broadway house.

This season I finally bought a subscription. It’s such a relief not to be wedded to a ticket date and time, especially when weather and life in general threaten to interfere with travel plans. I’d switched Kate tickets twice already when I requested a front mezzanine seat for Saturday. I had to “settle” for center orchestra and was stunned by what I found — legroom. Outside of Radio City Music Hall, I’ve never been so comfortable in a theater.

Trust me, you’ll sooner hear fliers waxing poetic about the space in economy coach than you will from theatergoers on Broadway. I don’t know how long it’s been this way at Studio 54, or if it’s permanent. I typically sit in the mezzanine and they reconfigure the orchestra as shows come and go (club tables and chairs in the front orchestra for Cabaret, for instance). Right now it’s the theater equivalent of a first-class cabin.

My Saturday theater schedule and early train back to Washington, D.C., on Sunday left little time for anything else. After a bit of wandering and a stop at the Herald Square Macy’s, I was happy to check into my hotel and escape the aforementioned St. Patrick’s Day mania.

With no apologies to Eugene, New York crowned itself the “Emerald City” for the weekend. It already was awash with drunken (or well on their way) bands of rowdy green-clad revelers when I emerged from Penn Station mid-morning — on March 16.

But that was the big day — the city’s 258th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade up 5th Avenue, the east-west dividing line for midtown Manhattan. Some 2 million people lined the 35-block route, with spillover everywhere. Just like Comic-Con weekend, as I noted in a column last fall.

After gamely making my way back from Kate that night without stepping in vomit (in fairness, that’s not a problem unique to any particular day in New York), I was delighted to find the TVs in the hotel bar tuned to the Pac-12 basketball championship. Nursed a $17 margarita — typical NYC sticker shock  — as Oregon began to pound the Huskies. Sadly, no one cared that they had a bona fide, bleeds-green-and-yellow Duck fan in their midst.

Here’s a dilemma I’d love to have: If there’s a regional final in the Ducks’ future, it’ll conflict with my next weekend trip and my ticket to Tootsie, Broadway’s latest movie-turned-musical.

Many of those — including this season’s Pretty Woman — have been letdowns. Anticipation for Tootsie, one of my favorite movies, is high. During a tryout run in Chicago last October, the Tribune hailed it as “boffo.”

I’m giddy already.

Questions about Broadway shows, buying tickets, using discounts, best and worst seats, etc.? Email Janelle at JanelleOnBroadway@gmail.com.