Kiss Me Kate – Review – Leeds Grand

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Kiss Me Kate – Review

Leeds Grand, September 2015

by Sandra Callard

Opera North in Leeds rarely let us down. After their glorious production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel in May, it seems they are as equally adept at musicals as they are at opera. Their first production of Cole Porter’s musical, Kiss Me Kate, in co-operation with Welsh National Opera, has now opened at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. It is directed once again by Jo Davies, whose reputation grows with each production. This is the latest revival of Cole Porter’s barnstorming opening production of the show in 1948. With Porter’s exquisite score and some of the best rib-tickling lines in stage musicals, it is a true musical comedy.

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This is a show within a show. The story revolves around a touring company’s production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. It is set both behind the scenes and on stage. The company’s actor-manager, Fred Graham takes on the lead of Petruchio. He is played thunderously and with great sexual appeal, by Quirijn de Lang. He is memorable for much more than his name. His slender frame is possessed of a remarkably powerful baritone. His stage presence grows as the show progresses.

Fred’s leading lady, Lilli Vanessi who plays the shrewish Katherine with vitriolic abuse and violence, also happens to be his ex-wife. Their antagonism on stage is also mirrored off stage, as she becomes progressively more shrewish in her dealings with Fred. Jeni Bern makes a wonderful Katherine as her antics fail to make an impression on the stubbornly testosterone-fuelled Petruchio.

“Impeccable touch”

The wonderful soprano of Bern and the complementary baritone of de Lang do full justice to Porter’s delicious score. The rousing ‘Wunderbar’ brings the house down. Cole Porter’s heart-wrenching love songs are particularly poignant in telling the story of Fred and Lilli’s divorce despite their abiding love for each other. De Lang’s beautiful rendition of ‘So in Love’ is his moment of glory. It is the highlight of an exemplary performance

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Kiss Me Kate skips blithely between the on-stage Taming of the Shrew performance and the off-stage shenanigans in the casts’ personal lives. It succeeds in evoking the necessary falsity of the ‘Shrew’ scenes, with the sense of reality during the backstage scenes.  These are cleverly interspersed with the completely alien appearance of two hoodlums who dog the footsteps of leads Fred and Lilli on the orders of a Mr Big. The terrible two are brilliantly played by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, as they muscle their way on to the stage and into the production,  singing ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ like they were born to it

The stage sets are especially eye-catching. There are beautiful back drops that immediately evoke the necessary atmosphere. With Porter providing catchy tunes galore, and the dancers gliding effortlessly through them, this show is a no-brainer. With the Opera North orchestra and chorus bringing their impeccable touch to the production, this is an evening of sublime entertainment.

images: Alastair Muir

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