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Wanted: Focus and Chops

Reprise Theatre Company, which exclusively produces revivals of musicals and frequently chooses rarely produced shows, is opening "Kiss Me, Kate" this week. Reprise mounts each show in two weeks: One is spent in a rehearsal room, the other rehearsing in the theater. We expect an extremely high level of work from our creative team and our performers. So colleagues frequently ask us how we achieve the level of quality we do within our time frame.

We are fortunate in this production to have a phenomenal cast that not only can make the work happen but does so with a positive attitude. Within our process, the performers must be mentally present throughout the entire rehearsal period. This is not just about arriving on time and memorizing lines. It's about using downtime to explore character, having a process for hearing notes and applying them, staying in character whether you're running a scene or learning choreography.

Revivals of musicals require skill sets that are increasingly unique. "Kiss Me, Kate" is a beloved show with hit song after hit song. But of course it comes from a different era—it premiered in 1948—and the performance style is different from that of many more-modern musicals. "Kate" wants versatile actors who can play character roles with resonance and depth. There are scenes that take place in the 1940s, and then we move to Shakespeare and ask those actors to jump into iambic pentameter. The show is packed with big dance numbers that require performers who excel in a variety of choreographic styles, so outstanding dance chops are essential. Many of these older shows are musically challenging too. They not only place vocal demands on the performers but also require that the singers be musicians. And performers are keenly aware that in a show like this, many of the songs enjoy a prominent place in the American songbook canon, so singers may feel high audience expectations. While all of these may seem like standard skills for a musical theater performer, the reality is that the art form has evolved over the decades. So an actor who can excel in all these areas is truly special.

And then there is the intangible the company gives to actors, which is the opportunity to do these shows. I think, as a musical theater performer, certain iconic roles, or great composer-lyricist teams, capture your imagination as a young person learning this art form. So the opportunity to play one of these roles often has a deep personal meaning to our cast members. It's a thrill to be able to offer this chance to our performers.

Reprise Theatre Company presents "Kiss Me, Kate" May 11–22 at the Freud Playhouse, UCLA campus, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.

Christine Bernardi Weil is managing director of Reprise Theatre Company. She can be reached at christine[at]

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