Theater review: ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ at Mac-Haydn in Chatham a scorching good time

Meredith Lustig as Lilli and Michael Axtell as Fred in a scene from Mac-Haydn Theatre's "Kiss Me, Kate." (photo by Ann Kielbasa)

Meredith Lustig as Lilli and Michael Axtell as Fred in a scene from Mac-Haydn Theatre's "Kiss Me, Kate." (photo by Ann Kielbasa)

It’s too darn hot.

And I am not just talking about the recent heat wave we have been experiencing!

There is some searingly good theater happening of late. And thank goodness that the Mac-Haydn Theatre is fully air-conditioned, as their current revival of Cole Porter’s musical masterpiece, “Kiss Me, Kate,” is a scorching good time.

Often referred to as a musical comedy battle of the sexes due to the fact that the piece uses the Bard’s “The Taming of the Shrew” as the inspiration, the plot, as adapted by the husband and wife writing team of Sam and Bella Spewack, may be more a tale of a marriage gone wrong.

Set in the late 1940s, the story revolves around the life and loves of a troupe of actors touring “Shrew” across America. While the performers are playing Baltimore, the temperatures outside the theater are steadily on the rise — and the passions and tempers of the cast and crew inside are matching it degree by degree. Leading man and director Fred Graham (an appealing and engaging Michael Axtell) and leading lady Lili Vanessi (a deliciously diva-esque, Meredith Lustig) have had just about their fill of each other — again.

Demanding and bossy as their onstage characters Petruchio and Katherine, they are even worse in their offstage personas. Self-involved and self-centered, both are consumed with offstage romances that they parry as a weapon of war against each in obvious hope of making the other crumple and deflate in a heap of defeat.

Why such animus between them? They are former lovers, now divorced. A pair that have never truly reached a detente and are still locked in a dance of devotion. They are still in love with each other — so in love with each other.

A wonderful show full of theatrical antics and comedy, it is packed with such standards as “So In Love,” “Another Op’nin, Another Show” and “Why Can’t You Behave?”

Kiss Me Kate is a must-see and is Porter’s finest achievement.

Axtell and Lustig are superb. Axtell’s rich baritone sails through “Were Thine That Special Face” with glorious color while Lustig offers a very lovely, wistful take on “So in Love.” Together the pair are wonderfully dynamic in the playful shared memory of “Wunderbar.”

Filled with youthful energy, the production is sprightly directed by Erin Spears Ledford and well-choreographed by Bryan Knowlton.

There are many moments to praise and point out. There is Lucy Rhodes as the simmering sexpot Bianca, nailing Porter’s classic “Always True to You Darlin’ in my Fashion.”

Harrison Asher Smith as Bill Calhoun, who is just one of the objects of Bianca’s affection, who scores big with his character’s declaration of devotion, “Bianca.”

And there is Jared Martin as Paul, who brilliantly leads the cast as they rip the roof off of the theater with the standout moment of the production, “Too Darn Hot,” at the top of Act 2. The staging, lighting and energy from the cast in just that number alone, is well worth the price of admission.

One of the best productions I have seen at Mac-Haydn in quite a while. Dare I say it? Sure, “Wunderbar!”

‘Kiss Me, Kate’

WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre
WHEN: Through July 31
MORE INFO: 518-392-9292

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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