Writer: Bella and Samuel Spewack
Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Directors: Jo Davies/Ed Goggin
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Opera North’s Kiss Me Kate returns to the Leeds Grand Theatre after its successful revival back in 2015. This acclaimed production, in collaboration with Welsh National Opera, makes a short stop in Leeds before transferring to the London Coliseum. Kiss Me Kate premiered nearly 70 years ago on Broadway and made its West End debut back in 1951.
Set at Baltimore’s Ford Theatre, Cole Porter’s musical is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and is about the turbulent relationship between the actor and stage manager, Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang) and his leading lady and ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Stephanie Corley). To add more drama and chaos there is Fred’s lover, Lois Lane (Zoë Rainey) and her gambling boyfriend, Bill Calhoun (Alan Burkitt), not to mention the two gangsters (Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin) who are demanding IOU money. A love triangle is certainly identified, leading to farcical repercussions throughout. The ensemble makes up the remaining characters who add flavour to the scenes of a working theatre on and off stage.
The musical switches from backstage to on stage where the opening of The Taming of a Shrew, a musical adaptation, is happening and is supported with Colin Richmond’s stunning and colourful staging and costumes and Ben Cracknall’s lighting. During the opening, Fred and Lilli (de Lang and Corley) switch roles as Petruchio and Kate respectively, main characters in the Shakespeare’s comedy, and the same for Lois (Bianca) and Bill (Lucentio) (Rainey and Burkitt). Some parallels are familiarly drawn on stage especially between Fred (Petruchio) and Lilli (Kate) and the estranged relationships continue on stage as much as backstage. Crucial themes such as gender, submissiveness and abuse particularly in women are raised for the audience to think about.
Kiss Me Kate is packed with fast-paced show-stopping and memorable musical numbers including the emotive So in Love, entertaining Wunderbar, catchy Too Darn Hot, entertaining Brush Up Your Shakespeare and the tap dancing Bianca, all of which are performed energetically by the cast leads and ensemble, including Chorus of Opera North. The musical numbers and dancing are co-ordinated well and fit nicely in the story. Crucially the transitions between the many scenes flows nicely, not distracting and keep the plot central, with ongoing action and credit to the choreographers, Will Tuckett and David James Hulston.
As well as the singing there is plenty of comedy, innuendoes and chaotic asides thrown in to make Kiss Me Kate a show stopper. Cole’s wonderful score (with editions David Charles Abell and Seann Alderking) is played live by the Orchestra of Opera North under the direction of James Holmes. Like Shakespeare’s comedies, the story ends all well though one will continue thinking of the raised themes which are paramount today.
The production features a stellar cast, especially Corley’s exceptional portrayal as Lilli (Kate) and a talented creative team. Kiss Me Kate is wunderbar, a treat to see, and the production has something for everyone whether it’s a comedy driven Shakespeare adaptation or show-stopping musical entertainment. This is another successful production Opera North has staged and is highly recommendable and certainly an unmissable evening of first-class entertainment.
Reviewed on 23 May 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton