Porter’s musical is a fired up version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. It tells of a doomed theatre company performing a musical version of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and switches effortlessly between on stage and backstage. The tempestuous relationship of leads Fred Graham (Quirijn De Lang) and Lilli Vanessi (Jeni Bern) plays out fabulously both onstage and off. With the added mix of their troublesome co-stars Lois Lane (Tiffany Graves) and Bill Calhoun (Ashley Day), two vengeful gangsters (Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin) and an impressive score, the performance is sure to be a memorable one. The action never stops!
Kiss Me Kate is not Opera North’s first foray into the popular musical genre, nor is it Director Jo Davies’s, whose combined efforts on the Marriage of Figaro have seen Opera North nominated for the Achievement in Opera at the UK Theatre Awards. Kiss Me Kate is another roaring success, masterfully combining the two genres in a powerful performance. The amalgamation of musical stars and operatic legends blends perfectly, providing the essence of opera and Broadway. Jeni Bern’s operatic voice lifts Vanessi’s solos to a new pitch while Ashley Day’s dancing has you tapping your feet in time. The full orchestra of Opera North is conducted by David Charles Abell, the editor of the critical score edition, and could not be in better hands. The music soars to new heights as does Tiffany Graves’s performance of ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ and De Lang and Bern’s duet ‘Wunderbar’.
The whole cast numbers are rousing with ‘Another Op’nin, Another Show’ opening the performance with a bang, and ‘Too Darn Hot’ kicking off Act Two. The musically trained backgrounds of many of the ensemble really shine here, with fantastic dancing and voices to raise the roof. Will Tuckett’s choreography impresses with uplifting whole cast performances, combining swing and jazz styles. Shovelton and Savournin’s admirable rendition of ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’ is a particularly memorable version and sure to be in your head all night.
Colin Richmond’s set design transforms the stage impressively from a Shakespearean set to the backstage of a theatre in Baltimore, perfectly complimenting the cast’s switching between characters. The props are impressive (look out for the donkey) and the wigs and costumes add to the drama.
The play within a play blurs the lines of theatre, and even the audience doesn’t escape, with actors emerging from boxes and the upper tier. The humour is well timed and the score incredibly catchy, particularly with the added opera pizazz. The lead roles are cast tremendously and the ensemble is outstanding in their rendition. This original performance of Kiss Me Kate is not to be missed. Sadly, the musical has finished its run at the Grand but it’s well worth making the journey to Newcastle, Salford Quays or Nottingham. Kiss Me Kate is touring until the 21st of November. Look out for the company’s next production in Leeds.