Kiss Me Kate

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Sam and Bella Spewack
The Old Vic and Chichester Festival Theatre
Old Vic

Hannah Waddingham (Lille Vanessi) and Alex Bourne (Fred Graham) Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Jason Pennycooke (Paul) and Company Credit: Catherine Ashmore
Adam Garcia (Bill) and Holly Dale Spencer (Lois Lane) Credit: Catherine Ashmore

This is what all musicals should be like. Led by the inspirational Hannah Waddingham, Sir Trevor Nunn has produced a revival that deserves to win multiple awards.

It triumphs thanks to a witty and perfectly constructed original script enhanced by unforgettable songs, sharp choreography, light drama and top drawer comedy.

Miss Waddingham is always a striking performer, not least because she towers over her peers and is capable of combining natural humour with a silky but powerful voice, used to very good effect on this occasion.

Sensibly, this angry Katherine has been cast opposite an even taller and on occasion angrier Petruchio in Alex Bourne.

The duo play a divorced couple, bad tempered, larger than life Hollywood star Lilli Vanessi and irascible, unfaithful, actor/director Fred Graham.

This pair find themselves thrown together in Baltimore c.1948 to put on Shrew—The Musical, a toe-tapping version of The Taming of the Shrew produced in a versatile Robert Jones set that transforms from tawdry backstage to plush onstage in the blink of an eyelid.

Cleverly, inimitable composer/lyricist Cole Porter and book writers Sam and Bella Spewack allow their love story to intersect with Shakespeare's whenever possible.

This takes some effort when not only is there a fiery, broken romance reminiscent of Private Lives but also a couple of dopey gangsters looking to recover 10Gs from a man they believe to be a hopeless gambler, a complementary romance between the second strings and even an army officer turned aspiring presidential candidate.

Much of the fun derives from the almost physical hatred sparking between the two stars, culminating in a powerful duet as the title song brings down the interval curtain and allows Miss Waddingham to exercise her tonsils in almost operatic fashion.

Before that, the musical highlight must be "So in Love", tunefully delivered by the diva, who will also inevitably disappoint half the audience every night when she growls "I Hate Men".

This glorious two and three-quarter hours becomes far more than a two-artiste event. The ensemble sing and dance their hearts out, hitting an unforgettable peak led by Jason Pennycooke in a ten minute long rendition of "Too Darn Hot", during which choreographer Stephen Mear really earns his pay with the assistance of his team of energetic and hugely talented dancers.

The subsidiary duo of Lucentio and Bianca, or more prosaically Bill Calhoun and Lois Lane, played by Adam Garcia and Holly Dale Spencer also acquit themselves well, the latter kookily funny with a finger in every pie.

The two dumb gangsters, Clive Rowe and David Burt are also hilarious, especially when instructing us to "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", the best comic song by a short head from Fred's "Where is the Love that Late I Led?".

On song, nobody around today directs a musical much better than Sir Trevor Nunn and in this wonderful Chichester Festival Theatre transfer, he resoundingly proves the point.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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