Kiss Me, Kate
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Sam and Bella Spewack
Michael Blakemore's production choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Directed for provincial tour by Petra Siniawski with choreography by Vikki Coote Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
Excellent leads in Craig Urbani, Julie-Alanah Brighten, David Sellings and Michelle Francis (in her professional debut); great support - and tremendous energy - from the rest of the company; exciting dance; some of Cole Porter's best songs; witty lyrics; good staging of both the on- and off-stage scenes - yet there was something missing. There was not that buzz, that excitement in the audience, that comes when they are carried away. We enjoyed and appreciated the show, but...
There were some superb musical moments: Brighten's "I Hate Men", Urbani'sfunny but poignant "Where Is the Life that Late I Led?", Francis' "Always True to You, Darling (in My Fashion)" and Kevin Curtin and Brighten's "From This Moment On", and some wonderful dance - Leroy Ricardo Jones and the ensemble's incredibly energetic "Too Darn Hot" stands out.
And the acting is fine, too. Craig Urbani makes a wonderfully urbane (sorry!) Fred, striking up a great relationship with the audience and Julie-Alanah Brighten and Michelle Francis are a wonderfully contrasting pair of female leads, the one cool and sophisticated and the other Monroe-like in her sexy naïveté. Michael Greco and Duncan Smith, as the two gangsters, are very funny (such a pity, then, that Greco's singing diction in the classic "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" meant that many of his solo lines were lost), and there were strong performances from the rest of the cast. We should have been delirious!
The fault - if fault there is - is not in the performers or the production, but in the fact that our expectations of music theatre have moved on. With Kiss Me, Kate we are watching a period piece. This is not to denigrate the music nor the cleverness of individual lyrics: it is just that the society in which it is set is a foreign country (much more foreign than the France of Les Mis or the Vietnam of Miss Saigon) and the attitudes and values it espouses are of their time (1948) and not ours, and even the form itself has changed.
In fact, Kiss Me, Kate is musical comedy rather than what we would today call musical theatre. Admittedly it is musical comedy which has been influenced structurally by the big hits which immediately preceded it (Oklahoma!, for example, the first show of what we might call modern musical theatre, and Carousel) but without the darkness that began to creep in with, for example, the character of Jud in Oklahoma! or the crime and death of Billy Bigelow in Carousel. It retains the domestic nature of musical comedy: indeed, what it does is take Shakespeare's Shrew and removes its universality, narrowing it down to the domestic, so that Katherine's (in)famous speech "I am ashamed that women are so simple" (here sung) becomes, not a comment on marriage but an apology to Fred.
This production is vastly entertaining - make no mistake about that - and great fun to watch. But the world and music theatre have moved on, leaving Kiss Me, Kate as a delightful irrelevance.
Kevin Catchpole reviewed this production at the New Victoria, Woking.
"Kiss Me, Kare" is at the Theatre Royal until 26th March, and then moves to Cardiff Millennium (31st March), Liverpool Empire (18th April), Leeds Grand (25th April) and Hull New Theatre (2nd May).
Reviewer: Peter Lathan