Before I review Opera North’s production of Kiss Me, Kate, a few words about culture may be appropriate. Now we all know that the Italians gave us opera and the Mafia: the Viennese served us operetta and strudel; the English provided Shakespeare and Imperialism; the Americans delivered Broadway musicals and Trump and the Greeks gave us civilization.
Speaking of imperialism, the Broadway musical has definitely adopted imperialist proclivities as regards the English, because it dominates the genre in the theaters of London. Which raises the question (really?) which are the best Broadway musicals? If forced to name a handful, I would include Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate which was just one reason for wanting to see it. Its production by Opera North (that refers to north England and not North Dakota or North Bay) suggests that it is not a run-of-the mill musical but indeed a masterpiece.
Kiss Me, Kate is a backstage musical based on a production of The Taming of The Shrew in Baltimore. The courtship of Kate the shrew by Petruchio and some other incidents from the Shrew are mirrored in the backstage shenanigans of the actors. This makes the musical a British-American partnership, a kind of coalition of the willing rather than an American invasion.
Opera North takes no short cuts in its production at the sumptuous London Coliseum. Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang plays the actor Fred Graham who plays Petruchio in the Shrew. De Lang is an opera singer as is soprano Stephanie Corley who plays his wife Lilli Vanessi and Kate the shrew. They make a fine pair who sing superbly and carry the comedy without a hitch. They have a number of songs including “Wunderbar,” the lilting waltz which was intended to satirize Viennese operetta (Porter did not like the genre) but people decided to love the song. They get wonderful solos such as Kates’s “I Hate Men” and Petruchio’s “I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily.”
Kiss Me, Kate has a large number of wonderful songs (arias really), duets and ensemble pieces that are done beautifully, robustly and just plain entertainingly. Bianca (Zoe Rainey) gets to sing “Tom, Dick or Harry” with her suitors and the marvelous “Always True To You” to her gambling boyfriend
Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin brought the house down as the two would-be-literate enforcers (Italy is included, you see). They are listed as Gunmen come to collect on a gambling bet for their employer and sing and dance “Brush Up You Shakespeare” to hilarious effect.
Other performers of distinction are Alan Burkitt as Bill Calhoun / Lucentio, Stephane Anelli as Paul, Aiesha Pease as Hattie and Malcolm Ridley as Harrison Howell.
Opera North has a full chorus and a full orchestra conducted by James Holmes for the production. This is no ordinary musical with short cuts. Jo Davies directed the original production which premiered in Leeds in September 2015 and Ed Gogggin directs this revival. The choreography for the 2015 performances was done by Will Tuckett and David James Hulston is the revival choreographer. Opera North has eight dancers who perform with superb coordination, athleticism and talent.
I trust I made no secret of my love of Kiss Me, Kate and my enjoyment of the production. Once again looking at the big picture of the cultural map, the United Kingdom from North to south must be happy. The Americans are obviously included. There are nods of gratitude and recognition to the Italians and the Viennese. And we are all happy because everything was started by the Greeks. Just go see this production, OK?
Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter (music and lyrics) and Samuel and Bella Spewack (book) opened on June 20 and will run until June 30, 2018 at the London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4ES, England.