London Coliseum – until 30 June 2018
Kiss Me, Kate is Cole Porter’s 1949 musical play in two acts which interweaves a production of The Taming of the Shrew with a number of dramatic backstage battles. After touring for a while, Opera North’s production has slipped into the London Coliseum for a short run which showcases its glorious score and stellar cast.
The book is certainly at the core of this show. We see the actors putting on a revised musical version of The Taming of the Shrew in addition to focusing on the battle between actors and ex-partners, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who can’t seem to budge one another. At times, especially in Act 2, the show does drag; at three hours long you certainly need to grab a coffee beforehand, but there’s also enough variation to keep you somewhat on your toes.
The plot is helped along by the smooth set transitions that come from Colin Richmond’s minimalistic backdrop featuring painted drops and revolving slides. These cleverly transport us from onstage, to backstage, but the whole production does feel a bit small for the vast space of the Coliseum. Much of the front stage is not used which makes the show feel distanced and somewhat unwelcoming as things get lost whilst being performed at the rear of the stage. Richmond’s costumes are beautiful and bring an almost modern twist to the show whilst maintaining its traditional Shakespearean roots.
The classic orchestrations are played in all their original glory which is truly magnificent to hear. From the jazzy ‘Too Darn Hot’ to Olde English melodies, the orchestra of Opera North, led by David Greed do an outstanding job of making everything buoyant and virtuosic.
You couldn’t ask for a better cast to perform this monstrous show; drawn from both the opera world and the musical theatre world, they combine to create some magical moments. Baritone Quirijn De Lang and soprano Stephanie Corley are musically outstanding as Fred and Lilli. Two fiery characters, they give boisterous performances which bite and claw, with a loving undertone throughout. Corley’s ‘I Hate Men’ is a true powerhouse moment.
Zoë Rainey sings as if her life depends on it and completely steals the show in act two with her vast rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion. The multiple repetitions in this song and others do become somewhat draining but Rainey’s performance is worth the ticket price alone as she performs with energy and vocal brilliance.
Act two provides spellbinding moment after spellbinding moment with Alan Burkitt’s tap number completely dancing everyone off the stage. He gives a magnetic, faultless performance which could be watched over and over.
A the two gunmen, John Savournin and Joseph Shovelton steal the scenes they’re a part of and give humourous performances throughout.
The ensemble do a wonderful job of bulking out the show but at times do feel underdeveloped, especially in terms of choreography. There could have been some really powerful group choreographic moments but unfortunately these were left out.
Kiss Me Kate has comedy, innuendos, a beautiful score and a stellar cast. It’s a long show that could definitely be chopped here and there but there’s no denying that it’s a marvellous piece of theatre. Despite some issues, the gems of performances that are spotted around do make it a Wunderbar production.