Kiss Me, Kate

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Opera North
London Coliseum
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Kiss Me, Kate is close to the perfect musical. It is extremely funny, has a real story to tell and contains a stream of what are known as “standards” of musical theatre.

Pleasingly, the musical first produced in 1948 is given a memorable production by Opera North in a revival that originated in Leeds three years ago but looks as fresh as ever at ENO.

Most readers will probably know the initial premise which takes as its basis a second rate, New York-bound production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Book writers Bella and Samuel Spewack superimpose a screwball comedy with similar characters and themes, doubling the fun and filling the evening with a series of often hilarious gags, helped along the way by the efforts of original director Jo Davies.

The central figures are the actors playing Kate the 'Shrew' and Petruchio, her far from PC suitor. The acting pair of the play around the play, Lilli and Fred played by soprano Stephanie Corley and baritone Quirijn de Lang, were formerly husband-and-wife and fight each other tooth and nail, love and hate rarely being too far apart in their relationship. This obviously mirrors the action on the Shakespearean stage. Pleasingly, Opera North’s central couple cannot only act but have voices that are entirely at home on the stage of an opera house.

On a secondary level, Zoë Rainey plays Lois Lane (not the Superman version) having great fun portraying an appalling actress cast as Kate’s sister Bianca. Both Lois and Bianca are the kind of blonde bombshells courted by every man in town. Leading the pursuits are the dual characters played by Alan Burkitt, whose highpoint comes in a literally breath-taking tap-dancing scene.

Adding to the comedy are Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin playing a Mafiosi duo who ensure that the show goes on and get their reward in the form of the evening’s most ingenious song “Brush up your Shakespeare”.

Over and above the comedy and the choreography, for many the main attraction will be a series of unforgettable songs from Cole Porter delivered by the full-scale orchestra and chorus of Opera North. These are generally both extremely catchy and very witty and feature a long series of high points.

The morning after a trip to the Coliseum, the song most likely to be going round in the heads of happy fans is the chorus’s “Too Darn Hot”, which also benefits from the high point in Will Tuckett’s choreographic programming.

Other favourites are likely to include Quirijn de Lang poignantly singing “So in Love”, Stephanie Corley’s rendition of “I Hate Men” and the comic highlight “Tom Dick or Harry”.

With all of these elements, this splendid, well-rounded production will leave audience members smiling at the end of 2¾ glorious hours of high-quality entertainment in the kind of sumptuous venue that is best known for opera these days but proves perfectly suited to the occasion.

Philip Fisher