Kiss me, Kate [Guildhall School of Music]

Kiss me, Kate
Musical comedy with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Bella & Samuel Spewack

Lilli / Katherine – Alex Clatworthy
Fred / Petruchio – Alex Knox
Lois / Bianca – Kae Alexander
Bill / Lucentio – Joshua Miles
First Gangster – Lewis Goody
Second Gangster – Stephen Wilson
Hattie / Show Chorus – Mabel Clements
General Harrison Howell – Kingsley Ben-Adis
Harry / Baptista – Josh Hart
Hortensio / Ensemble Actor – Karl Brown
Gremio / Ensemble Actor – Thomas Clegg
Paul / Haberdasher / General Harrison’s Driver / Priest – Stefan Menaul
Ralph – Laurent de Montalembert
Jo / Show Chorus – Rachael Deering
Mitch / Show Chorus / Nathaniel – Kurt Egyiawan
Sadie / Show Chorus – Constance Cha
Sue / Show Chorus – Kat Seelos
Joan / Show Chorus – Olivia Ross
Blanche / Show Chorus – Marianne Tees
Wilma / Show Chorus – Rona Morison
George / Philip / Show Chorus / Motorcyclist – Olivier Gagnon
Jim / Cab Driver / Gregory / Show Chorus – Adam Sullivan
Tom / Show Chorus – Joshua Mills
Ensemble Actresses / Show Chorus – Bethan Langford, Laura Ruhi Vidal, Chloë Treharne & Gina Walter

GSMD Orchestra
Steven Edis

Martin Connor – Director
Joseph Pitcher – Choreographer
Mark Bailey – Designer
Mark Jonathan – Lighting Designer
Ben Harrison – Sound Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 8 July, 2011
Venue: Silk Street Theatre, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate opened on Broadway in 1948 and was something of a return to form for the composer-lyricist. It had taken him a long time to repeat the popular successes of his 1920s and 1930s shows, Paris, Fifty Million Frenchmen, The New Yorkers, Gay Divorce, Nymph Errant, and Anything Goes. Although he was kept busy in the 1940s, real success only returned with Kiss Me, Kate. It ran for over a thousand performances. The Broadway revival in 1999 notched up nine-hundred performances. In between there had been an MGM movie version with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller, which was filmed in 3D, not entirely successfully, as it was very much a ‘staged’ version with stylised settings and costumes more appropriate to the theatre. The original New York cast included Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Harold Lang and Lisa Kirk. It was perhaps a surprising hit because it crossed the Broadway musical with Shakespeare in a backstage story about Fred and Lilli Graham, a theatrical and once-married couple who constantly squabble during a production of The Taming of the Shrew. The show was possibly based on Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne for whom Noël Coward wrote Design for Living. In 1935 the Lunts staged The Taming of the Shrew. During the rehearsals they would argue, going in and out of character while using the language of Shakespeare. These antics were witnessed by Arthur Saint-Subber, later a Broadway producer. In 1947 he recounted this story to writers Samuel and Bella Spewack who were also having marital problems, so Bella began writing the book on her own. Having chosen Porter to write the songs she then asked her recalcitrant husband to collaborate, the result being a huge hit.

In Kiss Me, Kate, Fred Graham, producer, director and leading-man, and his film-star ex-wife Lilli Vanessi are mounting a touring production of Shrew in Italy, during which their own situation mirrors that of Shakespeare’s play. Excerpts from the play are interwoven with the Spewacks’ modern-day plot and Porter’s roster of immaculate and timeless numbers. If only current shows were blessed with songs of the magnitude of ‘Another op’nin’, another show’, ‘Wunderbar’, ‘So in love’, ‘Too darn hot’, ‘Always true to you in my fashion’ or ‘From this moment on’. In 1947 Porter was following the success of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, the first of the new-style musicals that integrated book, lyrics, music and dance. Kiss Me, Kate has two concurrent plots, a theatrical piece about the battle of the sexes between Petruchio and Katherine as seen through Shakespeare’s eyes, and the other a behind-the-scenes fight between a formerly married couple. Fred is flirting with Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca in the Shakespeare play, and is involved with Bill Calhoun who is playing Lucentio. Bill is a gambler and has signed an IOU in Fred’s name. Following the divorce of Fred and Lilli, the latter has a new man, a General. Meanwhile, a couple of gangsters arrive to collect the IOU. As things start to fall apart, it’s curtain-up…

It’s a generally farcical plot but it works well in conjunction with the Shakespeare, with Fred and Lilli being able to express their feelings towards one another in the language of the Bard while Porter’s songs carry the plot along too. Lois asks Bill ‘Why can’t you behave?’ and Lilli and Fred express their feelings in ‘So in love’. In the play Bianca has to choose which of the three lovers she prefers in ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ and Katherine reveals why ‘I hate men’. Petruchio reminisces in ‘Where is the life that late I led?’ and Lois admits that whatever happens she is ‘Always true to you in my fashion’.

The youngsters at Guildhall School put on a tremendous show and all warm to the many opportunities to exhibit acting, singing and dancing skills. Alex Knox as Fred and Petruchio takes no prisoners in a strongly felt comedic performance. As Lilli and Katherine, Alex Clatworthy is good at knockabout farce, delivering a spiky performance as two women who will not be pushed around. As Lois and Bianca Kae Alexander gives winningly scatty interpretations that are a complete delight. Joshua Miles gives good comic support as Bill and Lucentio and, in a large cast, Lewis Goody and Stephen Wilson as the gangsters stand out – but then they have one of the best and funniest songs in ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’, delivered with terrific panache and great good humour. The chorus and dancers invest Joseph Pitcher’s imaginative choreography with immense relish, particularly in the Act Two opening number of ‘Too darn hot’ which shows off everybody at their terpsichorean best. Martin Connor is an old hand at Guildhall School productions and he never fails to invest shows with enormous pace and real vitality, which is what Broadway musicals are all about. The Orchestra under Steven Edis produced a quality sound.

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