Reagle gives the classic ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ its just due

Rick Hilsabeck as Fred Graham/Petruchio and Sarah Pfisterer as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine and ensemble members in "Kiss Me, Kate." Photo: Herb Philpott, Reagle Music Theatre

Rick Hilsabeck as Fred Graham/Petruchio and Sarah Pfisterer as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine and ensemble in “Kiss Me, Kate.” Photo: Herb Philpott, Reagle Music Theatre

WALTHAM — If I were Bob Eagle, I’d do it too.
The artistic director of the Reagle Music Theatre has brought back the husband-wife acting team of Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck several times to the Robinson Theatre stage in shows such as “My Fair Lady” and “Hello, Dolly!”
They are solid, classy, tried-and-true professionals and there’s little doubt their work ethic and professionalism rub off on the rest of the troupe, whose experience runs the gamut.
Just by being around the pair, the rest of the troupe — especially the younger members — feels that much more professional and accomplished, and it usually shows in their performances.
It’s no surprise, then, that Pfisterer and Hilsabeck slip into the roles of Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham like they were a pair of comfortable slippers in the RMT’s production of “Kiss Me, Kate” through July 19.
“Kate” is perhaps the best theatrical example of “a show-within-a-show” as it illuminates the backstage machinations of a Baltimore tryout for a production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Fred Graham (Hilsabeck) has put it all on the line as the producer, director and co-star of “The Taming of The Shrew,” playing Petruchio to the acclaimed actress Lilli Vanessi’s Katharine (Pfisterer).

Daniel Forest Sullivan (left) and Aaron Dore perform "Brush Up Your Shakespeare". Herb Philpott, Reagle Music Theatre

Daniel Forest Sullivan (left) and Aaron Dore perform “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Herb Philpott, Reagle Music Theatre

There’s just one big problem. The two have been divorced fairly recently and the scabs haven’t really healed, and the bickering and fighting backstage closely mimic what’s going on between the two characters in the Shakespearean piece.
A show that boasts one of the best opening numbers in musical theater history (“Another Op’nin, Another Show“), a boffo jazzy number to open the second act (“Too Darn Hot“) and one of the funniest novelty songs (“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”) has a lot going for it.
And while the book, and by extension, “The Shrew,” is hopelessly dated in how it treats the issue of domestic violence, lest we forget, Bill Shakespeare was never politically correct (“The Merchant of Venice,” etc. etc.).
You can’t go back and change history to rewrite “West Side Story” so Latinos aren’t offended, or take the “N Word” out of “Big River” because it offends some. A play is a snapshot in time, and you can’t go back and change a picture.
So put that issue out of your mind and enjoy the pleasures of the Cole Porter score — “So in Love,” Wunderbar,” “Always True to You,” are three of the best — and the words of Shakespeare, for that matter.
The rest of the cast takes its cue from Hilsabeck and Pfisterer. Lisa Dempsey is appropriately perky and charming as Lois Lane, the young actress who has been given her big chance by Graham to play Bianca, the beauteous daughter of Baptista (Rick Sherburne).
And while she appears smitten with Bill Calhoun (Kevin Patrick Martin, who doubles as Luciento), she is not above enjoying the attentions of Graham and other would-be suitors, which sets Lilli — who still has feelings for Fred — off in a big way when some roses intended for Lois end up in Lilli’s arms.
Calhoun, meanwhile, has a gambling problem, and two leg-breakers (Aaron Dore and Daniel Forest Sullivan) have been sent to the theater to collect the IOU written by Calhoun but which has Graham’s name on it
The bewildered Graham says he won’t be able to pay the debt unless Lilli — who’s decided to take off and leave the show — can be persuaded to stay.
The thugs then take it upon themselves to make sure Lilli stays on board, no matter what.
Hilarity ensues as Fred and Lilli take their backstage problems onstage, and are joined by the two gangsters.
Lovely Hoffman as Lilli’s assistant Hattie and Darren Bunch as Paul, Fred’s dresser, get a chance to show off their vocal chops in the standout production numbers “Another Op’nin, Another Show” and “Too Darn Hot,” respectively.
Director Cynthia Thole’s attention to detail ensures that the entire cast — from the leads through the ensemble — are on the same page.
Susan M. Chebookjian’s choreography is energetic and precise, and Conductor Jeffrey Leobnard and Music Director Dan Rodriguez combine for a skilled rendition of the classic score.
There’s not a lot of new ground being broken here — Thole has inserted a few tweaks that work well — but the ground it was on was already pretty solid. “Kiss Me, Kate” is a classic, and the Reagle Music Theatre gives it its just due.
The Reagle Music Theatre production of “Kiss Me, Kate.” Book by Sam and Bella Spewack, music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Inspired by William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew.” Directed by Cynthia Thole. Choreographed by Susan M. Chebookjian. Lighting design by David Wilson. Scenic design by Richard Shreiber. Conducted by Jefferey P. Leonard. Music direction by Dan Rodriguez. Through July 19 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington St. Waltham. http://www.reaglemusictheatre.com

 

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