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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
KISS ME KATE
at Chichester Festival Theatre

SO IN LOVE(DESPITE THE BRUISES)
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Ph: Catherine Ashmore

No doubt about it, Kiss Me Kate is Cole Porter’s snappiest, sassiest, smartest, most sophisticated and wittiest musical. It could be argued that his score for Anything Goes is more popular, but when it comes to the seamless integration of book, music and lyrics, Kate trumps Reno Sweeney every time. 

The book by Sam and Bella Spewack revolves around a blistering feud between a divorced theatrical couple who are thrown together in an out-of-town tryout of a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The fact that the acrimony of their breakup is mirrored in Shakespeare’s rollicking tale of a feisty shrew who marries against her will is the show’s raison d’etre, and back in 1948, when it was first seen, it provided both Porter and the Spewacks an opportunity to show off some of their very best work.

A subplot involving a gambling debt and a couple of cartoon heavies, as well as an Ado Annie-type romance between two other members of the cast, provides further opportunity for Porter to demonstrate his musical and verbal dexterity.

Despite the show’s seamless interweaving of words, music and lyrics, I’ve seen revivals that have allowed the various elements of the book to appear more contrived than they are. Even tedious. Happily, director Trevor Nunn’s spirited take on the piece, which opens this year’s Chichester Festival, moves at a cracking pace leaving you little time (or inclination) to quibble about some of the more far-fetched aspects of the plot. Nunn has tweaked some of the show-within-the-show scenes, occasionally replacing the Spewack’s paraphrasing of the text with Shakespeare’s original lines. It works beautifully. Nunn, like Michael Blakemore in his 2001 West End production, also interpolates the song "From This Moment On," which was used in MGM’s 1953 film version.

This classy revival also benefits immeasurably from Stephen Mear’s energetic and inventive choreography (the best I’ve ever seen at this venue) as well as from a scenic and lighting concept (by Robert Jones and Tim Mitchell, respectively) that is especially elegant and resourceful in the Shrew sequences.

Nunn has also cast the show from strength. As Fred Graham (and Petruchio), Alex Bourne – who, for far too long, has been locked into We Will Rock You – returns to his rightful milieu as a leading man blessed with good looks and a rich, booming baritone voice to match.

Hannah Waddingham as Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (and Katharine in the Shrew) brings to the role her delicious comic timing and an imposing presence. She is, on occasion, too much of a shrew for my taste, and there’s a shrillness to her upper register I could have lived without. But it’s a big, brassy performance that certainly earns its leading-lady status.

As the gangsters, Clive Rowe and David Burt settle for in-your-face caricature. The secondary leads, Holly Dale Spencer, playing Lois Lane and Bianca, and Adam Garcia, as her would-be beau (also Lucentio), are excellent. Garcia is a nifty dancer with undoubted quality. He’s a real asset.

After its Chichester run, Kiss Me Kate transfers to the Old Vic where I hope it takes the town.

 


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