Kiss Me, Kate

Mac-Haydn Theatre, Chatham

This play calls out spouses’ most shocking behavior, and it ranges from “oh, please.” to “WTF!?”

By Andrew Andrews

Jonah Hale, Michael Axtell, Meredith Lustig and Jordan Bunshaft in Mac-Haydn’s production of Cole Porter, Bella and Samuel Spewack’s Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Erin Spears with choreography by Bryan Knowlton. Original photos by Ann Kielbasa.

Actor Fred Graham is producing and starring in a new musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

For God-knows-what-reason, Graham has hired his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi to play the Shrew opposite him, and the two are as much at odds backstage as their characters are on the set. Vanessi even threatens to abandon the show, which would leave Graham without a leading lady.

Supporting actor Bill Calhoun has a gambling problem, and forges a $10,000 IOU to a mob boss using Graham’s name—because apparently it was easy to do that back in 1948!

When two goons appear in Graham’s dressing room to collect the debt, Graham pretends the note is legitimate, claiming that he won’t be able to pay it off unless the gangsters force Vanessi to stick to the performance schedule, so he can earn the money at the box office.

Not unlike their recent production of A Chorus Line (or, for that matter, last year’s run of Laughing Stock at The CENTER for Performing Arts), this musical dramatizes the world behind-the-scenes of live theatre, exposing the ego clashes and personal problems that create as much drama off-stage as the audience beholds on the set.

Inspired by the animosity between real-life husband-and-wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Kiss Me, Kate was the first show for which Cole Porter wrote music and lyrics specific to a script.

Zoe Schneider-Smith, Emily Allen, Anthony Velez, Nina Laing, Trevor Squiers, Ricky Dobbs, Holly Lauren Dayton, Anna Langlois, Jared Martin, Sarah Chiu, Jessie J. Potter, Patrick MacLennan, Troy Wheeler, Harrison Asher Smith, Bella DePaola, Cody Edwards and Lucy Rhoades. George Phelps, Brian Wagner and Kyle Marra (not shown) complete the cast.

From its opening number (“Another Op’nin’, Another Show”) to it’s closing reprise (“Kiss Me, Kate”), this production delivers all of the spectacular song-and-dance that Mac-Haydn performances are known for.

Donning a thousand fine costumes over the course of the evening, the company is particularly entertaining when the lot of them take the stage for the larger dance routines.

Although most of the Mac-Haydn’s regular stars are absent from this production, the performance is delightful none-the-less, with vocals by Meredith Lustig (Vanessi) and the footwork during “Tom, Dick or Harry” (Lucy Rhoades, Harrison Asher Smith, Troy Wheeler and Patrick MacLennan) especially standing out. Watching the choreography of “Too Darn Hot,” also, was too damn fun.

There were a few moments during our show when an actor or two tripped over lines with a less-than-graceful recovery, and I was a bit confused at times about the “backstage” layout, due to ambiguities in the scenery.

Overall, however, the cast and crew delivered all of the pleasure and professionalism that I’ve come to expect from a presentation at the Mac-Haydn, and I can hardly wait to return in a few weeks for their regional premiere of Next to Normal.

Andrew Andrews attended Kiss Me, Kate at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham on Friday, July 22, 2022 @ 8:00pm to write this review.