Kiss Me, Kate

July 5, 2018 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Sparkling

Festival Theatre: Wed 4 – Sat 7 Jul 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Visually and musically, Opera North’s Kiss Me, Kate is something of a feast at the Festival Theatre until Saturday.

Samuel and Bella Spewack’s book boasts the songs of Cole Porter, including several numbers that are cornerstones of the musical theatre tradition. The plot – about a feuding ex-couple who are appearing in a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, an ingenue, her boyfriend and the gangsters he is mixed up with – is inventive and fun without being overly tricksy.

xStephanie Corley as Lilli Vanessi and Quirijn de Lang as Fred Graham. In the Opera North production of Kiss Me Kate. Pic Tristram Kenton

Stephanie Corley as Lilli Vanessi and Quirijn de Lang as Fred Graham. Pic: Tristram Kenton

That invention is constantly in evidence in this co-production with Welsh National Opera, first seen in 2015. Director Jo Davies (with revival direction by Ed Goggin) provides a beautiful rhythm to the production, while Will Tuckett’s choreography (revival choreography by David James Hulston) makes for a dazzling spectacle.

Quirijn de Lang and Stephanie Corley, as central couple Fred Graham and Lili Vanessi, both possess vocal power and bags of stage presence. De Lang occasionally lacks the emotional complexity to convince as Fred, but his expansive raffishness as Petruchio in the play-within-a-play scenes more than compensates.



Corley gives Lilli considerable depth. The scene where she, while onstage as Kate, discovers that the flowers she thought Fred had sent as a reminder of their marriage were intended for the performer playing Bianca, has an emotional coherence that (whisper it) is entirely absent from Shakespeare’s source material.

considerable gusto

Zoe Rainey has considerable comedic chops as the ingenue playing Bianca, while Alan Burkitt (her boyfriend Bill) is a particularly pleasing dancer, fleet of foot in his featured tap number and beautifully loose-limbed elsewhere.

Alan Burkitt as Bill Calhoun and Zoë Rainey as Lois Lane In the Opera North production of Kiss Me Kate. Pic Tristram Kenton

Alan Burkitt as Bill Calhoun and Zoë Rainey as Lois Lane. Pic: Tristram Kenton

The comic dialogue creaks noticeably in places, and it is often the wordless jokes – such as the unexpected appearances of James Hayes’s hangdog Trevor – that work best. Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, however, as the two gangsters, attack their material with considerable gusto, and their featured number Brush up Your Shakespeare is a joy.

However, it is the big song-and-dance numbers that impress the most. The two songs at the top of each act – Another Op’nin, Another Show and Too Darn Hot – are particularly impressive. Too Darn Hot in particular gives Aiesha Pease and Stephane Anelli, as Lili and Fred’s dressers, their moment to shine, which they both seize.

first rate

Throughout, the dancing and choreography are first rate, and the Opera North chorus are particularly impressive.

There are always going to be a couple of quibbles when opera companies tackle Broadway musicals. The huge pit orchestra, splendidly conducted by James Holmes, do more than justice to the music, and means that the total number of performers approaches three figures.

John Savournin as Second Gunman, Stephanie Corley as Kate and Joseph Shovelton as First Gunman In the Opera North production of Kiss Me Kate. Pic Tristram Kenton

John Savournin as Second Gunman, Stephanie Corley as Kate and Joseph Shovelton as First Gunman. Pic: Tristram Kenton

While it is by no means a foregone conclusion that such resources would automatically lead to a memorable production, it is something of an advantage. And while there is a good mix of operatic and musical theatre voices in evidence, the oddly distancing emotional effect that opera singers can give to such material is occasionally in evidence.

This is particularly true at the conclusion, which comes up against the biggest problem with the material – that the storyline of Shakespeare’s original, even when given dollops of irony and wrapped in plots-within-plots, is simply unacceptable to modern tastes.

The pizzazz and energy of this production dispel that successfully, however, to the extent that they can be forgiven an over-fondness for false endings – and one of those over-choreographed curtain calls, which seem to be more about showing off and less about giving the performers the recognition they are due.

And they are due that recognition, because this is sparky, energetic and seriously good fun.

Running time 2 hours 50 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 July 2018
Daily at 7.15 pm.
Matinee Saturday 2.15 pm
Information and tickets: http://www.capitaltheatres.com/kissmekate.

Opera North website: www.operanorth.co.uk.
Facebook: @OperaNorth.
Twitter: @Opera_North.

The company let rip with the hoofing in the Opera North production of Kiss Me Kate. Pic Tristram Kenton

The Company of Kiss Me, Kate. Pic: Tristram Kenton

ENDS

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