In January, during the second annual Wilmington Theatre Awards, Opera House Theatre Company scored big for their production of “Oklahoma!” from 2013. Not only did it win Best Musical, it also crowned Ray Kennedy as Best Director, Nygel Robinson as Best Actor, and Kendra Goehring-Garrett as Best Actress across nine of its nominations. The trifecta of talent will join once again as Opera House opens the first musical ever to win a Tony in 1949 with “Kiss Me, Kate.”
“Nygel and I have a mutual respect for each other on- and offstage,” Goehring-Garrett states. Theatre-goers have been abuzz about seeing the local thespians together again, as their chemistry simply mesmerizes.
“He is wonderful, so very talented!” Goehring-Garrett says. “Because I have that connection with Nygel through theatre, it comes through onstage. That admiration and kind of awe of what he is able to do at such a young age, that’s what I think comes through on my end.”
Director Ray Kennedy praises their connectivity and dedication to performance art. Their natural talent fuels their drive and determination.
“They jump in 110 percent,” he elaborates. “They both have beautiful voices; there is a natural and exciting chemistry, which is wonderful for the stage.”
Goehring-Garret will play the role of Katharina (Kate)/Lilli—a complex leading lady full of sass, yet not without a temper and strength, alongside hints of vulnerability. “Truthfully I love everything about her,” Goehring-Garret says. “She’s complex.”
The musical requires the actors to take on dual roles, as the show is basically a play within a play. “Kiss Me, Kate” delves into the curtain-shrouded drama surrounding William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” “Kiss Me, Kate” opened in 1948 as a Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Bella and Samuel Spewack. It follows actors playing roles in the Shakespeare dramady.
“[I’m excited about] getting the chance to direct the words of Mr. Shakespeare and choreographing to Don Sebesky’s Tony Award-winning arrangements,” Kennedy tells. Kennedy served as choreographer for a rendition of the show once before in his late 20s. Choreography will feature a mixture of formal Elizabethan styles from Shakespeare’s time and late-‘40s jazz.
The witty musical follows Fred Graham as he directs, produces and stars in a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Things heat up when his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, takes the role opposite him. Likewise, romance blossoms between secondary thespians Lois Lane and Bill; however, complications arise due to Bill’s gambling problem.
Kennedy is focused on bringing to life two high-energy love stories. “Love and the angst and passion that accompany affairs of the heart are always timeless,” he says.
Lorene Welsh directs the production’s 14-piece orchestra. Welsh will conduct hits like “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “Wunderbar,” “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” and “Too Darn Hot.”
“‘So In Love’ is my favorite song,” says Robinson, who plays Fred and Petruchio. “It comes at a point in the show when Fred realizes he’s lost Lilli for good. The song is everything he wanted to say to her but couldn’t.”
The quick quips from the characters, along with an unabashed bravado, has challenged Robinson in making Fred relatable. He is a diversified if not difficult character, according to the actor. “There is so much going on in his mind during this show,” Robinson says.
Paired with Goehring-Garrett’s Lilli/Kate, it’s a “bull-in-a-china-shop” affair. Much like the Bard’s characters Katharina and Petruchio, Fred and Lilli have a hot-and-cold relationship. Even when things are going well, they still fight through loving each other.
The secondary cast of characters in “Kiss Me, Kate” perfectly foil the main love story. Caitlin Becka portrays Bianca/Lois Lane, an up-and-coming actress who’s the antithesis to Lilli’s already established Hollywood starlett. Becka conveys Lane’s tenacity and flirtatious ways as she struggles to make a name for herself and reign in her gambling flame, Bill. “She uses her womanly wiles to get what she wants in life; I just wish she wasn’t such a hussy,” Becka quips. Audiences will get a taste when Becka performs “Always True to You in My Fashion,” which puts Lane’s encounters with male suitors to melody.
This performance marks the first time Becka and Alex Stevenson—who plays her love interest, Bill—have met, but they’ve quickly bonded. “He’s got a great voice and is a lot of fun to play opposite,” Becka says.
“I met her only the first day of our duet rehearsals,” Stevenson explains, “and the minute we started working, it was fun. She is a method-trained actress, which is always fun to watch, but has this electrifying and bubbly personality that made it easy for me to connect with.
“Both our characters have their flaws,” Becka adds. “I’m a reckless flirt, and he’s a reckless gambler. Yet, we charm our way into each other’s hearts.”
Stevenson began honing his dance skills in college four years ago. It’s a talent needed to pull off his “smart-ass” Bill. “Having dance features is a little daunting,” Stevenson admits, “but that’s what theatre is: trying new things, committing to it and being fearless.”
Though the show doesn’t hide the fact it was first performed over a half-century ago, its love story still reaches contemporary audiences. The societal struggles between men and women still exist today shine through in “Kiss Me, Kate.”
“I think the most interesting aspect is that during this time of musical theatre, women were not given a great role of strength,” says filmmaker and local thespian JR Rodriguez, who takes on the role of one of the “businessmen.” “They were typically written as the damsel in distress, the girl in love with the criminal and so on. Porter took a chance with his female characters, especially Lilli Vanessi.”
Much like the wild personalities found within it, “Kiss Me, Kate” promises to be a spitfire.
Kiss Me, Kate
Wed.- Sun., July 30th – Aug. 3rd
Fri. – Sun., Aug. 8th-10th, 15th-17th, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinees 3 p.m.
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St.