In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of Kiss Me Kate at NextStop Theatre Company, meet Director Michael J. Bobbitt.
Joel: Please tell our readers about yourself and about other shows on local stage you have directed in the past year?
Michael: Hi DCMTA readers, I am the Producing Artistic Director of Adventure Theatre MTC – the region’s longest running children’s theatre and training academy. Because of that job, I don’t have many opportunities to direct at other theatres. I do seem to have time to choreograph here and there. Most recently, I choreographed Spelling Bee at Fords, Carrie at Studio Theatre and will be choreographing Guys and Dolls at Olney coming up.
Why did you want to direct Kiss Me Kate at NextStop?
I love this show. I love the music, I love the Shakespeare text, I love the backstage drama, I love the period, and I certainly love the romance. This is a classic musical comedy with love songs, production numbers, 11 o’clock numbers, charm songs and the like. It’s just so comforting to sit back and enjoy a tuneful comedy that has all the elements of musical theatre that first drew me to the artform. Also, I’m very fond of Evan Hoffman and thrilled that he entrusted me. We’ve been buds for a while and have been trying to find a project. So glad this worked out.
What is unique about this production of Kiss Me Kate?
We decided to do it with an 11 person cast. When looking at the breakdown, we were able to make it work. And this gave us a chance to get to know each performer more. It’s still Kiss Me Kate, just with a small cast. BTW – these 11 people sound like 30 people. Our choreographer called is a “little big musical.” I am so excited that this has worked.
What is your vision for this production and how have your designers brought it to life on the stage?
We have embraced the on-stage/off-stage aspect of the show. Kiss Me Kate was written for a proscenium theatre – it’s a huge part of the plot. Well, in Next Stop’s charming intimate space, we could not make a traditional proscenium “wing and drop” set happen, so we have embraced every nook and cranny that we had at our disposal in the theatre. I think it will be an immersive experience for the audience. They will be in the midst of the action.
What have been some of the challenges blocking and directing the show in NextStop’s intimate Black Box Theater?
I think that challenges force creativity. Luckily, at Adventure Theatre MTC’s space, I have much experience working with small casts with lots of doubling and in a small space. I try to make obstacles into virtues I don’t want to give away too much, but I think the way we have used the space is really fun and creative. Kudos to the whole team!
How many musicians will be performing Cole Porter’s score?
We have 4 musicians. I think the acoustic sound of the band is again a virtue. We have keyboard, Bass, drum set, and reed and it sounds full and lush.
Where will the musicians be sitting and performing during the show?
They are onstage, mostly in plain view of the audience. Being that this is an on-stage/off-stage show, it was important to me that the band is part of the experience. The actors occasionally interact with them.
Have you worked with Musical Director Steve Przybylski before and what impresses you most about his work for Kiss Me Kate?
Steve is an instructor for our Pre-Professional Program at Adventure’s Academy. What impresses me most is his willingness to collaborate with the actors, the choreographer and I. With a small cast, small orchestra and intimate staging of the show, we needed to have some flexibility and Steve was always in support. He’s also a GREAT musician and I think the cast is singing with strong musical integrity.
What has impressed most about the cast and their performances and their work in rehearsals?
I am so excited about the cast I have. The talent in the cast blows me away. AND, they are really fun to be in the room with. (Which is so important to me.) Everyone jumped in with the small cast staging and has been working hard. Rachel (choreographer), Steve and I have asked them to do EVERYTHING they have ever learned how to do in 3 ½ weeks. All are working hard to be specific, creative and polished and funny. And the glorious voices will knock your socks off. Below is the breakdown of roles. We REALLY are doing it with 11 people!
Paul Scanlan (Fred/Petruchio)
Karen Vincent (Lilli/Katherine)
Emily Levey (Lois/Bianca)
Stephen Russell Murray (Bill/Lucentio)
Bobby Libby (Harry/Baptista/Harrison)
Hasani Allen (Paul/Gremio/Harberdasher/Priest/Ensemble)
Kevin Place (Gangster #1/Ralph/Ensemble)
Drew Stairs (Gangster #2/Hortensio/Ensemble)
Daphne Epps (Hattie/Nathaniel/Ensemble)
Shaina Murphy (Cab Driver/Gregory/Nurse/Ensemble
Hannah Jennens (Dance Captain/Philip/Ensemble)
Which character is most like you, and why?
Hmmm…that’s a really good question. Probably the haberdasher. He is shall we say…dramatic!
Which scene is your favorite and which scene was the hardest to direct?
I love the opening! I love Rachel’s “Too Darn Hot.” I love the first scene with Fred and Lilli. I love the first scene. I love the scene after the fight (we had a lot of fun using the space. I think the hardest scene to stage (and most of the kudos go to Kristin Pilgrim is the Kate/Petruchio & Lilli/Fred onstage fight scene. It’s so multi-layered. On-stage fight based on off-stage drama. Characters breaking out of “character”, the physical, but funny violence and the breakdown of this play on opening night! It’s just complicated and scrumptious.
What is your favorite lyric or lyrics and favorite song?
My favorite song is “So In Love. The tune is gorgeous and at the same time tortured. It’s the right song for the right characters. Highly romantic and melodramatic.Every lyric that Cole Porter wrote in this show is my favorite lyric. How’s that as an answer!
How would you describe Rachel Leigh Dolan’s choreography for the show and which scene was the hardest to direct and choreograph, and which scene or song was the most fun to direct and choreograph with Rachel?
Rachel has been a dream to work with.This is the first time that I haven’t choreographed a show that I have directed. So, I was a bit nervous, but Rachel and I speak the same language. “We complete each other…”
Her movement for the show is steeped in period correct and traditional musical theatre with a lot of class, pizzazz, theatre and interest. She’s the real deal! What she has gotten out of the cast who all have various levels of dance skills is simply amazing. You’re going to see gorgeous high kicks, turns and leaps, very cool partnering, including some lifts, slick musical theatre jazz, tap and renaissance movement. The movement information that Rachel has in her body and mind is remarkable.
What I most love about her, is that she knows how to push people and make them look good and everyone steps up to give her something special. She and I have a list of Musical theatre movement tricks. We joke that maybe we should write a book.
How can today’s audiences relate to Kiss Me Kate?
I think our society is plagued with its obsession of leading men and leading women. Social media is overrun with comments about this ilk of people. More so, we love to revel in the destruction of these perfect people. We love to watch their perfect “onstage” lives shatter “offstage”. We also love to know that they will be OK. It’s just simply fun. And I think that’s way KATE has had such a long history. It is ultimately a play about perfect people who are flawed.
What’s next for you on the stage after Kiss Me Kate?
I have co-written the book for CAPS FOR SALE, the musical. This is a world premiere musical that Adventure Theatre MTC has produced. It has a score by the remarkable Bill Yanesh. The show, in celebration of the 75tg Anniversary of the book will play in Glen Echo, MD, a 17-city National Tour, and then go Off Broadway at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd street in NYC.
After that, I will choreograph Guys and Dolls at Olney (stealing all of Rachel’s steps). And in the Spring directing/choreographing School House Rock at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte in North Carolina and also choreographing Floyd Collins at 1st Stage. Then, co-writing Jumanji, which will also premiere at Adventure next summer. And then, a LOOOOONNNNGGGG break.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Kiss Me Kate?
Their renewed LOVE of classic Musical Theatre.