Cole Porter’s 1940s musical (performed by the Welsh National Opera) is given new life by Jo Davis’ direction and Will Tuckett’s wonderful choreography. The play is set behind the scenes of a 1940’s production of Taming of the Shrew, which is to be performed in Boston. We see the love-hate relationship of the divorced leading lady Lilli Vanessi, played by understudy Clair Wilde, and leading man Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang), which juxtaposes their characters of Katherine and Petruchio’s relationship in Shrew. Wilde steps up to the plate well, and her and Lang’s chemistry is electric on stage in both their 1940s and Shakespearean roles.
This main plot line is surrounded by the mishaps of Lois Lane (Amelia Adams-Pearce) playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Alan Burkitt) playing Lucentio. Bill manages to owe several hundreds of dollars to two gangsters, but points the blame at Fred, leading to a wild goose-chase for the two gangsters. The mistaken identities, love triangles and slapstick comedy is all reminiscent of Shakespeare’s play and is cleverly intertwined between both Shrew and Kiss me Kate.
From opening to close this play is high energy, with Porter’s songs beautifully sung by the WNO. However, not all of Porter’s witty lyrics are easily understood – perhaps due to the casts’ operatic background and not always believable American accents. The group numbers such as Another Op’nin’ Another Show really stood out under James Holmes’ conduction. The WNO gave a feel-good factor that meant you couldn’t resist tapping your foot and humming the songs long after the music had stopped. Colin Richmond’s design also deserves noting, as his transitions from 1940s back-stage to 1600s on-stage was seamless throughout.
Other favourite moments from the audience include the two gangsters’ song Brush Up Your Shakespeare, hilariously performed by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin. Their performances brought the element of Shakespearean fool to Kiss me Kate, and had the loudest laughs from the audience. There was also a wonderful tap-dance routine by Alan Burkitt that left the audience in awe of such skill by both dancer and choreographer.
Overall, this cheerful musical was a joy to watch and a good distraction from the cold, rainy weather that loomed outside, especially when the song Too Darn Hot made you almost believe you are in the colourful, musical land of a Boston theatre on a hot summer’s day.