Mac-Haydn Scores Big Once Again With Kiss Me Kate

The heatwave we have been dealing outside isn’t the only thing that’s hot in the Capital Region. Cole Porter’s musical classic  Kiss Me Kate has set up shop at Mac-Haydn in Chatham. Practically brimming over with an embarrassment of riches from the Great American Broadway Songbook, Sam & Bella Spewack’s book and lyrics are filled with such standards as “Wunderbar,” “So in Love,” “Tom Dick or Harry,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Another Op’nin’ Another Show,” and of course the very timely “Too Darn Hot.”

Harrison Smith and Lucy Rhoades as Bill and Lois / Ann Kielbasa

The story involves the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew and the conflict on and off-stage between Fred Graham, the show’s director, producer, and star, and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. A secondary love story involves Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill, who gets involved with some entertaining gangsters.

Mac-Haydn continues to impress with the heightened levels of professionalism they have brought to audiences the past several seasons both with on stage talent and the technical aspects of the their productions. The organization led by Producing Artistic Director John Saunders has moved Mac-Haydn to the next level. One can not help but think that founders Lynne Haydn and Linda Macnish would be beaming with pride and joy at what began as a small troupe producing plays in a barn on the Chatham Fair Grounds has grown into that we have today.

Kiss Me Kate smashes the ceiling one more time. Led by the real life husband and wife team of Meredith Lustig and Mike Axtell as Lilli and Fred through the supporting characters and into the the chorus, the talent packed onto the Mac’s smallish stage is staggering.

Lustig and Axtell / Ann Kielbasa

Lustig’s presence on the stage offers the audience the total package. Her comic timing is spot on. Her mezzo soprano voice is rich and full as if Porter’s music was written with her in mind. She absolutely pulls the audience in from her first notes in Wundebar to the beautiful and chilling So In Love to her finale as Katharine in I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple. Axtell’s performance is a delight. He owns the stage with his comic timing and mugging. On the whole he gave a very credible performance. His vocal talents appeared to be a bit strained during the Saturday evening performance, offering a nuanced range but falling short on the depth and warmth needed to fully carry out the deep baritone bass voice that Porter’s music demands.

Harrison Asher Smith as Bill/Lucentio and Lucy Rhoades as Lois/Bianca play beautifully with one another, have a genuine connection on the stage and it shows. Rhoades’ comic Always True To You was well deserving of its built in encore. Kyle Marra is a comic delight as are Jordan Bunshaft and Jonah Hale as the two gangsters who were born to play these roles.

The technical team led by Director Erin Spears Ledford  Musical Director Emily Croome and Choreographer Bran Knowlton have built a cast that accentuates their strong points, makes the most use of the venue and presents to the audience a performance that leaves you wanting more.

Real life husband and wife team Axtell and Lusting in ‘Kiss Me Kate’ / Ann Kielbasa

Lighting Designer Andrew Gmoser opens the show with a dramatic exciting start that continues through to the final blackout. Erin Kiernan shows what unique and interesting scene design can be done in the round to create a series of venues that invite the audience in. The production team is rounded out on a high note by Daniel Hewson’s beautiful costumes and Caitlin Maxwell’s hair designs.

The outstanding part of the production has to be the full cast musical numbers. The outstanding choreography in the sultry sexy “Too Darn Hot” is a feast for the eyes, the show’s opening grabs you at the start and the finale will have you leave the theatre on a visual high. Kiss Me Kate is an absolute delight for the senses. It offers something for everyone… classic Cole Porter music, a little bit of larceny, lots of laughs, great dancing, beautiful costumes, and a superb production.

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