Review - Opera North's Kiss Me, Kate at the London Coliseum
There were two sides to Cole Porter: the populist, American standard Porter who gave us singalong standards like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I Get A Kick Out Of You”; and the classically trained Porter with an ear for the grandiose. Kiss Me, Kate delivers on both accounts, and Opera North’s delightful production does justice to what was to be Porter’s biggest hit.
Arguably, one of the best parts of this show is being able to witness the tragic, calamitous musical production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at the centre of its plot. Actor-director Fred Graham prepares for the big opening, at which his ex-wife Lilli plays Katharine, and a nightclub dancer he has given a chance to try theatre, Lois Lane, plays Bianca. As passion reignites between the former couple, a bouquet of flowers intended for Lois lands with Lilli, and she rampages through the first act of The Shrew in a rage.
Meanwhile, Bianca’s boyfriend Bill has racked up a $10,000 dollar debt, and put the IOU in Graham’s name. When a Canon and Ball-esque gangster double act show up. with Lilli threatening to quit mid-show, Fred assures the mobsters he will have the money when the production wraps up, convincing them to ensure Lilli performs.
Porter’s music sits in a perfect balance between Broadway musical and operetta. “Wunderbar”, sung as Lilli and Fred reminisce on better times, is a beautiful song with some gorgeous harmonies courtesy of Quirijn de Lang and Stephanie Corley. While “Too Darn Hot” and “Always True To You In My Fashion” provide lighter, catchier moments - even if the latter is reprised once to many times in the name of ‘comedy’, and celebrates infidelity in a cutesy, pretty way.
Perhaps the comedy should be left to the genuinely funny moments, such as the Gangsters’ moment in the spotlight. Forced on stage as they try to exit the theatre, they improvise a show tune: “Brush Up On Your Shakespeare”, masterfully written and surely a pun lover’s anthem.
It’s the entire Broadway package, and it features some fantastic choreography from Will Tuckett. As Bill, Alan Burkitt plays a character it is difficult to feel partial towards, but his tap solo, which echoes around the vast Coliseum auditorium, is jaw-dropping.
As director Fred, de Lang leads the cast in The Shrew, and in Kate. His powerful, deep voice commands your attention, notably stronger than anyone else on the stage. Though it is difficult to compare to Zoë Rainey’s performance, as she excels in the ditsy musical numbers, a very different role as we saw her in An American in Paris last year.
Having toured the UK for a number of years now, this production is only in the West End for ten days, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t nab yourself a ticket.
Kiss Me Kate tickets are available now.