This year both Kiss Me Kate and this reviewer turn 70. It’s up to others to say how well I’ve aged but this wonderful musical has aged pretty well although like all of us at nearly three score years and ten, it sometimes creaks a little around the edges!
Opera North’s production is the second major London revival of this award-winning musical in just six years following the production at The Old Vic in 2012 so Cole Porter (music and lyrics) and Bella and Samuel Spewak (book) must have done something right back in 1948 for a show to have such longevity.
Kiss Me Kate is a play within a play with the action taking place backstage and on stage during a production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of The Shrew”. It chronicles the stormy love life of Fred Graham/Petruchio (Quirijn de Lang) and Lili Vanessi/Kate (Stephanie Corley) both on and off the stage. There are various subplots as a couple of gunmen turn up to collect a debt, a politician arrives to marry Lili and Lois Lane (Zoë Rainey) and Bill Calhoun (Alan Burkitt) try to fix their relationship.
But Kiss Me Kate isn’t about the plot – it’s all about the songs – and what songs they are. This is almost the first jukebox musical with the likes of “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “Wunderbar”, “We Open In Venice”, “Always True To You In My Fashion”, “Too Darn Hot” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. As this is pre “Carousel”, most of the songs don’t really drive the story and the last two, could easily be taken out without affecting the plot whatsoever but although they’d shorten the nearly two and a half hours running time a little, they’d be sorely missed as they are fabulous songs.
This is not the most PC of musicals and I’m sure if it was written today, they couldn’t get away with its misogynistic attitude – I don’t think it would pass the #MeToo test but maybe that’s Shakespeare’s fault and not Porter’s?
The production as a whole is a delight and I felt I was transported back to Broadway in the late forties with the enormous cast of eighteen characters, ten dancers and the large Opera North chorus. Add to that the superb Orchestra of Opera North conducted by James Holmes comprising over 60 musicians playing the original Broadway arrangements and the result is truly sumptuous. It’s rare that a musical is given this kind of expansive, opera-sized production treatment as commercial theatre just can’t compete with the subsidised sector and the whole production is a delight.
The performances of the cast were all spot-on with the singing of the opera-trained de Lang and Corley as the star-crossed lovers a particular joy. All of the principles had their moment in the spotlight with Zoë Rainey being sassy and vulnerable at the same time in “Always True To You In My Fashion” and Alan Burkitt showing that the art of tap dancing is not dead in a wonderful solo number. Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as the two comedy gunmen step in front of the curtain to bring the house down with their terrific comedy timing in a very funny rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.
To hear such a big cast accompanied by such a superb orchestral sound was thrilling at times and the chorus deserve an honourable mention as does the wonderful dance routines which kept the energy levels up throughout.
I left the theatre with a spring in my step and a song in my heart, so maybe we (almost) septuagenarians have got something to offer the world for a little while yet!
Review by Alan Fitter
Cole Porter’s riotously inventive homage to the sparkling wit of Shakespeare, Kiss Me, Kate is an irresistible celebration of the joy and madness of working in theatre.
On the opening night of a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew in 1940s Baltimore, the tempestuous love lives of actor-manager Fred Graham and his leading lady (and ex-wife) Lilli Vanessi are set to collide. Throw in Fred’s current paramour Lois Lane and her gambler boyfriend Bill – plus a couple of gun-toting gangsters who somehow get caught up in the show – and the stage is set for a funny and farcical battle of the sexes!
KISS ME, KATE
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Critical edition by David Charles Abell and Seann Alderking
Cast and creative team includes:
Fred Graham/ Petruchio Quirijn de Lang
Lilli Vanessi / Katharine Stephanie Corley
Lois Lane / Bianca Zoë Rainey
Bill Calhoun / Lucentio Alan Burkitt
Hortensio Jack Wilcox
Hattie Aiesha Pease
Paul Stephane Anelli
Gunman Joseph Shovelton
Gunman John Savournin
Harry Trevor / Baptista James Hayes
Harrison Howell Malcolm Ridley
Ralph (Stage Manager) Claire Pascoe
Dancers Michelle Andrews, Rachael Crocker, Freya Field, Kate Ivory Jordan, Harrison Clark, Jordan Livesey, Ben Oliver, Ross Russell
Conductor James Holmes
Assistant Conductor Oliver Rundell
Director Jo Davies
Revival Director Edward Goggin
Choreographer Will Tuckett
Associate Choreographer David Hulston
Assistant Choreographer Alex Newton
Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond
Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell
21st – 30th June 2018