fb-pixelRachel Bertone has been preparing for her leading role at Reagle Music Theatre - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Rachel Bertone has been preparing for her leading role at Reagle Music Theatre

Rachel Bertone at a rehearsal for "West Side Story," her first production as Reagle Music Theatre's artistic director. She is also directing and choreographing the show, which runs July 8-16 at Waltham High School.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Following an artistic director who founded the theater you’re going to lead is never easy.

But Rachel Bertone, who is taking over that role at Waltham’s Reagle Music Theatre after Robert J. Eagle’s 52-year run, isn’t a newcomer.

“It’s an honor to have this position,” says Bertone, “because this is where I got my first professional gig as a performer after college. It’s my theatrical home.”

In total, Bertone spent a decade working steadily at Reagle, serving as director of educational programs along with her work onstage. She has gone on to choreograph and direct at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Moonbox Productions, and Wheelock Family Theatre before moving to New York in 2019. For her inaugural season, she is directing and choreographing “West Side Story” (July 8-16) and “Pippin” (Aug. 5-13).


“Once I was brought on board, I connected with Bob, who told me he was happy the team chose ‘someone in the family,’ ” Bertone says.

From 1969 to 2021, Eagle transformed a high school auditorium in Waltham into a summertime destination for high-quality Broadway classics, boasting appearances by the likes of Shirley Jones, Lorenzo Lamas, Donna McKechnie, John Davidson, Rachel York, Patrick Cassidy, and Andrea McArdle, along with musical revues and a year-round concert series. Along the way, Reagle’s programming has also served as a launch pad for many Boston performers, including Bertone.

“I was initially hired as an ensemble performer for the entire season,” says Bertone, “and then I moved on to dance captain, assistant director, and choreographer, and then took on full directing and choreography responsibilities for ‘Carousel’ and ‘Showboat.’ I had a chance to work with Gemze de Lappe, who shared the choreography for the Dream Ballet in ‘Oklahoma’ she learned from Agnes de Mille, as well as Rachel York [”Kiss Me, Kate”] and Rick Hilsabeck [“Phantom of the Opera,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”]. It was such a gift to be in the room with those experts.”


Diego Klock-Pérez and Bianca Rivera-Irions rehearse a number from "West Side Story." Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

What she loves about Reagle, Bertone says, is the opportunity to bring so many artists together.

“We blend talent from New York and beyond, with local professionals and community performers,” she says. “It’s an equal playing field.”

Bertone says she’s excited to continue Reagle’s commitment to full orchestras and large casts. “West Side Story” will have 28 company members, many of whom, she says, are new to her.

“The large cast helps make the show thrilling for the audience,” she says. “And I love the opportunity to collaborate and connect with the actors. Every ensemble member has to feel invested because they are critical to the show’s success.”

Diego Klock-Pérez, who plays the pivotal role of Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks, says despite the widespread familiarity with the show, he was impressed by the amount of time Bertone spent on character development.

“Familiarity can sometimes lead to reducing these roles to stereotypes, and it’s really important to me that Bernardo not be misrepresented,” Klock-Perez says. “Rachel asks us to step back and think about why these teens have joined a gang. The individuals in both these gangs are fighting for the same thing — they are trying to be safe in a world of chaos.”

Bertone and Klock-Perez worked together on her Wheelock Family Theatre production of “In the Heights,” and in her Lyric Stage production of “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”


“Rachel has so much respect for actors’ opinions,” says Klock-Perez. “She asks each of us to bring truth and respect to the characters. That’s what helps the audience lean into the story.”

“I’m only as creative as the people I surround myself with,” says Bertone. “I think my experience as a performer, and my experience as a teacher combine to let me know what actors need to feel empowered.”

Although the challenges of the pandemic have made her debut season “a transitional year,” Bertone says after the pandemic hiatus, staging just two shows instead of Reagle’s traditional three seemed right this summer. She’s grateful to have colleague and longtime Reagle music director Dan Rodriguez as her partner on these shows, since they worked together at other area theaters, including in a production of “West Side Story” at the Turtle Lane Playhouse 10 years ago.

“It’s exciting to mix the familiar with the new,” she says. “Part of my role as artistic director is to reach a wider demographic and bring in younger, more diverse audiences. Still, we will present the ‘Christmastime’ show again, which is so popular with families. I staged the children’s choreography years ago, so I hope to give it a little face lift while respecting the tradition.”

She’s already thinking about the future and hopes to expand educational programming, add more concerts and revues, and ultimately provide an opportunity to workshop new plays.

“I hope we can continue to tap the talent in our backyard as well as New York for programming that is even more year-round,” she says.


The fears of a family

Great Barrington Public Theater presents the final installment in its series of one-person shows, “Leave Your Fears Here,” through July 10 at Liebowitz Black Box Theater, Bard College at Simon’s Rock. The memoir, by actor James Morrison (“Law and Order SVU,” “The West Wing,” “Six Feet Under”), recounts the harrowing story of his 10-year-old son’s brain cancer treatment and recovery. (Tickets $25 at www.greatbarringtonpublictheater.org.)


Presented by Reagle Music Theatre. At 617 Lexington St., Waltham, July 8-16. Tickets $38-$68. www.reaglemusictheatre.org

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.