Opera North return to The Festival Theatre Edinburgh with their production of Cole Porter’s classic “Kiss Me Kate” for far too short a run (Wednesday 4th to Saturday 7th July), and it is simply a “classic” too.
The original idea to “do Shakespeare”, take “The Taming of The Shrew” as source material, add Cole Porter lyrics and write a story that blends a theatrical company performing a production of the original into their off stage story line may at first seem like a recipe for a disaster, but it actually works wonderfully, and a tight script (Samuel and Bella Spewack) and classic lyrics and music (Cole Porter) made the original stage musical (Broadway 1948) and subsequent Hollywood film version (1953) huge successes. Of course, the very Shakespearean idea of a play within a play also works so well in this production.
“Kiss Me Kate” has seen many stage productions over the years, but for this one we have returned to original source material (including Cole Porter’s original scores) to correct many of the changes and inaccuracies that have crept into many productions over the years as arrangers and orchestrators have added or improvised slightly as they went along. This “Critical Edition” source for this production reflects much detective work and time by David Charles Abell and Seann Alderking.
If you are going to attempt to do a classic “period” production like this on stage, then you need first of all to make sure that you are re-creating as authentic a period feel as possible, and Opera North have so obviously spent a lot of time and money getting the period details just right, and set and costume designer Colin Richmond has done a great job here giving us both “Classic Hollywood Musical” and “Shakespearean” periods. This world on-stage is full of glamour and colour everywhere and provides a wonderful space for our singers and dancers to inhabit and bring their characters to life .
There are simply no weak links anywhere in this production, and our two leads - Quirijn de Lang as Fred Graham/Petruchio and Stephanie Corley as Lilli Vanessi/Kate are simply outstanding with not only impressive displays of vocal ranges and vocal control, but just the right light comedy timing that you need to pull off the dual parts that both play. Stephanie Corley is perfect as the modern day and Shakespearean terror of every man, and Quirijn de Lang brings just the right amount of swagger to his role as Petruchio. There is something about this self-assurance and swagger that reminds me a lot of Errol Flynn in his classic Robin Hood performance. Individually, Stephanie Corley and Quirijn de Lang are superb, but together there is a genuine chemistry on stage that lets something a little magical happen between them.
Zoë Rainey as Lois Lane/Bianca and Alan Burkitt as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio get some classic lines and songs to play with here too, and handle the song and dance routines in wonderful style. Lois Lane’s “Always True To You in my Fashion” may not have the most modern PC lyrics, but it is still a great song, and Zoë Rainey gets the playfulness of it just right in her performance.
As well as classic song and dance routines, “Kiss Me Kate” is also a very finely written comedy, and providing a lot of that comedy element are our two gunmen out to collect the money due on a gambling IOU. Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin really have their own show within a show here too, and their comedy duo song “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is a classic example of Cole Porter at his humorous best.
There are so many Cole Porter classic songs in this production. For many, “Too Darn Hot” is the main number, but for me it is always the wonderful “So In Love”.
This is pretty much the perfect production of “Kiss Me Kate” – a hugely talented cast getting the songs just right, an equally talented dance team getting moves of the day captured in style, and an outstanding tap dance routine in here too.
If you like classic musicals then try and get along to this one as it is not often that any company gets all the elements coming together perfectly like this. “Kiss Me Kate” is easily one of my favourite theatre visits this year.
Review by Tom King