“Kiss Me Kate,” now at Diamond Head Theatre, is a tough one to like or loathe. In a word, it’s uneven. With highs and lows.

It boasts tunes by Cole Porter, a welcome and happy prospect, though Porter seemed to pitch tunes with an anything-goes stance. Tucked into the musical fabric are gems not commonly sung these days – “Wunderbar,” “From This Moment On,” “So in Love” – so hearing ‘em makes you feel like connecting with old friends.

But its show-within-a-show motif is not the exactly engaging or endearing. “The Taming of the Shrew,” the Shakespearean classic, is the production the cast is prepping for, and its two leads (who bicker and argue in see-sawing feuds) are distancing and disorienting.  Fred Graham (David Young, likeable and loopy) also is Petruchio; Lilli Vanessi (Lea Woods Amanza, exquisite, with operatic opulence)  also is Katherine.

Lea Woods Almanza is Lilli Vanessi/Katherine in “Kiss Me Kate.” Photo by Brandon Miyagi, courtesy DHT.

They’re off-stage exes, in an on-stage battle of the sexes. Her big belter is the  vitriolic “I Hate Men,”  and his retort is the emblematic “Were Thine That Special Face.” A young teen lad whispered after the performance, “It’s very confusing,” and he was right.

The book by Sam and Bella Spewack is quite dated (the plot is set in Baltimore in the ‘40s), and the backstage/front-of-the-curtain motifs clearly make this one theatrically inclined, right from the get-go. “Another Op’nin,’ Another Show,” led by Hattie (Alison Maldonado, delightful), is the opening curtain number. Among the songs midway in Act 1 is “Tom, Dick or Harry,” which has been a lasting phrase in modern life, so perhaps “Kiss” has never truly been out of vogue. It’s deemed to be one of jewels of the Golden Age of the Broadway musicals, but is a tad tarnished for a new generation of audiences.

Director Malindi Fickle clearly had the arduous task of unifying nearly 30 singers-dancers and about 20 ensemble members, and she managed to pack lively bursts of action; together with lifelong dancer Christine Yasunaga’s nimble choreography, there’s awesome cadence on stage.

Act 2 is worth waiting for, with secondary figures shining and connecting with the spectators. “Too Darn Hot,”  staged in an alley, features Paul (Justin Garde), Ralph (Alexandria Holloway), and Makeup Artist (Aiko Schick) joined by the ensemble in a top-gun sing-and-dance finger-snapping, toe-tapping spectacle that is, well, darn hot. Thanks, Yasunaga! And First Man (Lisa Fosbender) and Second Man (Mathias Maas) are Damon Runyan-esque comedic gangstas  on “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” loaded with shtick, with repetition that works. (Note the gender-bending casting, which is part of the fun).

Further, Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (Andrew Simmons) offers an appealing “Bianca,” pitching romance to Lois Lane/Bianca (Erin McFadden), without the tangle and tussle of the Katharine/Petruchio relationship.

Throw a kiss, too, to Kimmerie H.O. Jones, whose costume designs are bright and bountiful, with Shakespearean influences and colorful period garb for m’ladies and gents. Dawn Oshima’s sets succeed in the two-level play space, but somewhat drab, not divine, in the side-by-side dressing rooms. No complaints, however, about the lighting by Stephen Clear and sound by Kerri Yoneda, and Aiko Schick continues to do chic work on hair and makeup. And Lindsay Rabe’s nine-piece orchestra hits all the right notes befitting of a musical.

But the unevenness may have caused a cluster of viewers to leave at intermission; the filled seats near me were vacant, so regrettably these folks missed the gems in Act 2. Too darn shameful…

“Kiss Me Kate”

What: A musical by Cole Porter (music and lyrics) and Sam and Bella Spewack (book)

Where: Diamond Head Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; extended shows at  7:30 p.m. April 26, and 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 27.

Tickets: $32 to $62, at (808) 733-0274 or www.diamondheadtheatre.com

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