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Review of Opera North’s Kiss Me, Kate at London’s Coliseum

Opera North’s production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate Jack Wilcox as Hortensio, Zoë Rainey as Bianca, Piers Bate as Gremio and Alan Burkitt as Lucentio – Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Opera North’s production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate Jack Wilcox as Hortensio, Zoë Rainey as Bianca, Piers Bate as Gremio and Alan Burkitt as Lucentio – Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Too darn hot? Well, almost. It’s certainly a very heart-warming show. Not that long after the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Kiss Me, Kate, which transferred to The Old Vic late in 2012 comes, to misquote the title of one of the musical’s numbers, another opening of another production, this time from Opera North. This one has been doing the rounds since 2015 but has a brief residence at the London Coliseum in June 2018, fresh from a return visit to Leeds Grand Theatre the previous month.

It’s a well-oiled machine, with a large orchestra (more than fifty members), here conducted by James Holmes, that musicals from the era of Cole Porter (1891-1964) and his contemporaries would have had on their first outings. Not all the comedy elements have stood the test of time – when Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang) spanks Lilli Vanessi (Stephanie Corley) in response to her hitting him repeatedly, it strikes (sorry) me not so much as offensive but unfunny.

For the uninitiated, the cast of The Shrew, a show within the show, and itself a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, have backstories, some of which are more developed during the evening’s proceedings than others. Fred and Lilli play the lead characters in The Shrew, Petruchio and Kate (not Katherina, as per the Shakespeare play) respectively. There’s also Lois Lane (Zoë Rainey) and Bill Calhoun (Alan Burkitt), playing Bianca, Kate’s younger sister and Lucentio, a suitor to Bianca. Lois and Bill just so happen to be seeing each other in ‘real life’, so to speak.

It’s steadily paced, at least by modern standards, and while there are numbers that push the story on, such as Petruchio’s ‘Where is the Life That Late I Led?’, others such as Kate’s ‘I Hate Men’ –playful yet vindictive – merely reinforce the spoken narrative. It’s easy to see why it’s billed as a ‘musical play’ – there is so much that is said rather than sung that it is for patrons to decide for themselves whether it’s a musical or a play with songs.

Not that the audience is deprived of musical numbers – far from it, especially in the second half, where there are several crescendos to both ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’ and ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, such that those two songs felt like six, in a good way. The latter, the show’s ‘eleven o’clock number’, was performed with some brilliant comic timing and rapport with the audience by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin (named in the list of characters, unimaginatively and with an unavoidable possible spoiler alert, as First Gunman and Second Gunman). Even if “If she says your behaviour is heinous / Kick her right in the Coriolanus” doesn’t quite resonate, generally speaking, with today’s audiences, particularly in the light of recent international campaigns against assaults and violence.

It’s a solid and faithful revival – and to be honest, in this day and age, it could do with a little trimming. The cast are, collectively, drawn from both opera and musical theatre, a powerful blend that suits the production like a glove. The standout moment, for me, was Burkitt’s Bill stopping the show in more ways than one, tap dancing with incredible agility. The choreography (Will Tuckett) was impressive overall, with the large ensemble numbers something that needs to be seen to be believed. Some deliberately exaggerated poses and expressions (no gurning, thankfully) add to the comic effect. All things considered, this is an enjoyable and entertaining production.

4 Stars

Rev iew by Chris Omaweng

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
London Coliseum

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Kiss Me, Kate
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