Writers: Bella and Samuel Spewick
Composer &Lyricist: Cole Porter
Director: Jo Davies
Reviewer: Chris Williams
After the serious operas Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice, the Welsh National Opera ends its autumn season celebrating Shakespeare400 by bringing us the frothy Cole Porter musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate.
Divorced, bickering Broadway stars Fred Graham and Lili Vanessi are putting on a version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew; not only do they have to contend with a forged gambling IOU and a pair of sensitive, well read, comedy gangsters, but also the fact that they’re still in love with each other.
With such an extensive cast even the principal characters are an ensemble, but each character/performer gets their chance to shine: Alan Burkitt’s solo tap dance as Bill Calhoun; Amelia Adams-Pearce’s nightclub performer-turned Shakespearean actress Lois Lane ends up alone on stage singing Always True to You in My Fashion and it might just make you feel like you’re in the audience on Broadway in the 1950s.
Landi Oshinowo as dresser Hattie is the first person to sing the opening line of Another Op’nin’, Another Show and you can’t wait to hear her sing again; and later she sings Too Darn Hot with Max Parker’s energetic performance as Paul.
Even though it’s such an ensemble cast, the two main players are Quirijn de Lang as boastful, preening actor Fred Graham (Petruchio) and Jeni Bern as the “shrew” Lili Vanessi (Katherine, the titular Kate). Opera voices seem to fit these older musicals, and both de Lang and Bern make it sound like no other style of singers should sing Cole Porter’s songs. The character of Fred Graham is an ass, and de Lang certainly has fun in the role but it is Bern who shows superb comic ability, in particular, while she’s singing I Hate Men you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a music hall performance.
Cole Porter’s songs have been synonymous with American classics but he was clearly a genius when it came to a comic lyric, in another audience favourite performance Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, as the two gangsters, sing the lyric “if she says your behaviour is heinous, kick her right in the Coriolanus”.
It’s telling that there is a Choreographer, an Associate Choreographer and an Assistant to the Choreographers for this production – it is exceptionally well choreographed, we get a tap number, an acrobatic dance routine and even some ballet.
Colin Richmond has the job of designing two sets, the backstage area of theatre and the play within a play set of The Taming of the Shrew, he does a respectable job of both and the stage door-keepers booth looks intricately detailed. The orchestra of the WNO does an exceptional job as always, and they bring a cinematic sound to Cole Porter’s music.
So Brush Up Your Shakespeare, and your Cole Porter, and get a ticket to see this astonishingly entertaining production of a properly old-school musical.
Runs until 2 October then 6 – 10 December 2016 | Image:Alastair Muir