Kiss Me, Kate, book by Sam and Bella Spewack. Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Directed by Jeremy Kronenberg.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Brush up your Shakespeare - Start quoting him now!"
Robert Anthony Jones and John Saunders; photo: provided
"Two households, both alike in dignity," the opening line from Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet," might well describe the dichotomy of this classic American musical which draws from the same playwright’s "The Taming of the Shrew" for its inspiration. "Kiss Me, Kate, now taking the stage at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY is, indeed, showing audiences how "From ancient grudge to new mutiny,. . .A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life." Fred Grahame and Lili Vanessi, two former lovers, passionate about their careers, their loves and each other, are reunited after the death-knell of their divorce to play Petruchio and Kate in a musical edition of the second mentioned play, directed by Fred and produced by Lili’s fiancé. What emerges for our pleasure is a play within a play, one which sounds a resonant chord of discord that creates a renewed fervor in the hearts of both the major players, each of whom is dying without the other one actively in his/her life.
Old and new forces change them back and forth from their new selves to their former selves and being out of sync makes it hard for Lili and Fred to truly create a major third on the musical scale of their relationship. Lili quits the show on opening night of the out-of-town tryout and Fred uses two gangsters claiming his attention for a gambling debt he didn’t incur to keep Lili in check. The show goes on in spite of his indiscretions and her virago-like tendencies.
The two gangsters are deliciously played by Robert Anthony Jones and John Saunders who make every appearance into something akin to a laugh-riot. If there weren’t already two major stories in the reality play and at least that many in the Shakespeare musical comedy, we would have to concentrate on these two gentlemen to find a symbiosis that is both pleasant and amusing. Jones and Saunders are a delight together. The seem to finish one another’s sentences more often than not. What one feels the other says. What one does, the other is only a half beat behind. When they finally get to deliver their show-stopping song the pre-planned encores just get funnier and funnier. They are the highest highlight of this show which actually has other highpoints that we need to discuss.
Jon Reinhold and Colleen Gallagher are an enticing pair of ex-lovers who find fighting with one another to be more stimulating than making love. Each want the other to "sit, stay, beg," but like the best dogs both of them know that other is not completely sincere. They miss the fighting and they miss the loving and they miss one another so much that being together is just impossible. Reinhold, who overacts in as hammy a manner as possible, and Gallagher, who underacts to the same degree, make it up to us, themselves and each other in song. They are just terrific in song.
Reinhold has a lusty baritone voice and good looks and height and a fine chest and great legs and is a completely romantic figure on the round stage at the Mac-Haydn. Gallagher is almost painfully thin, too thin you might expect to sustain a voice of power and purity, but there it is, as lovely as can be. In their duets they are divine. On their own they do almost as well. Reinhold has some trouble with his second act list song of lovers, but the pace seemed a bit too brisk to get any meaning into the melody. Gallagher has the same problem with the Shakespeare setting that Porter created for "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple."
As her sister Bianca Kelsy Stalter brings her tunes home with strength and simplicity, humor and pathos when as the modern day Lois she sings more about reality than fantasy.The company of young players create perfect pictures in this show with the dancing of Andy Geary singularly beautiful to watch. Elyse Langley is a perfect Hattie ringing in the opening number and Rasheem Ford totally nails "Too Darn Hot."
Jimm Halliday’s exquisite costumes grace the large company of players perfectly. Romantic and marking the time period of the play outside the play beautifully he can also make a comic statement without going completely overboard. Laura Brignull’s sets work very well for this show and the lighting by Andrew Gmoser is expressive and matches the songs’ moods neatly.
Jeremy Kronenberg has directed his company well, keeping moments natural and fresh and relationships well defined in movement while choreographer Maddy Apple has moved the company into graceful postures and mini-dances that make songs like "Too Darn Hot" into miniature plays themselves.
With so much that is good we come to the squeakiness of the musical accompaniment. Ultimately it didn’t seem to make much difference, but with the score it took a while to get used to the thin and artificial sound coming through the system.
This is a very good production of an almost perfect show and a singular delight to set and watch and listen to all night. Two hours and twenty-five minutes flew by for me and will again for you. Make this your show at the Mac if you only have one. This is the one.
Jon Reinhold; photo provided
Colleen Gallagher; photo provided
Kiss Me, Kate plays through August 5 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located at 1925 Route 203 in Chatham, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go to www.machaydntheatre.org.