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Kiss Me, Kate on the Barbican is an undemanding, pleasant, five-star night of musical theatre nostalgia – Seen and Heard Worldwide




United KingdomUnited Kingdom Kiss me, Kate (Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter, Guide by Sam and Bella Spewack): Barbican Theatre, London, 15.6.2024. (JPr)

Stephanie J Block (Lilli) and Adrian Dunbar (Fred) in Kiss Me, Kate © Johan Persson

What goes on backstage varieties the idea of many nice twentieth-century masterpieces corresponding to Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos, Ken Ludwig’s play Lend Me a Tenor and musicals from the Gershwins, Loopy for You, and Harry Warren’s forty second Road Maybe the most effective of those ‘present inside a present’ theatre occasions is Cole Porter’s 1948 Kiss Me, Kate. Except you might be within the know, I believe most audiences all the time ponder sometimes what actually occurs backstage earlier than the curtain rises or falls. Porter’s lyrics for Kiss Me, Kate are a few of his wittiest and there’s a light-hearted if fairly wordy, ‘life turns into artwork’ Pirandello-inspired guide by Sam and Bella Spewack. Nonetheless, a musical with (amongst others) ‘I Hate Males’, ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’, ‘Too Darn Scorching’, ‘So In Love’ and ‘All the time True To You In My Trend’’ can not fail to entrance theatregoers wherever, anytime.

It’s 1948 and Fred Graham is the egotistical actor-impresario, who has tailored The Taming of the Shrew right into a musical and is attempting it out in Baltimore. Naturally he takes the position of Petruchio; his co-star enjoying Kate is Lilli Vanessi, his ex-wife, and a temperamental film actress although not the recent ticket she as soon as was. Fred is focused on Lois Lane a younger fledgling ‘actress’ within the firm however Lois already has a boyfriend, Invoice Calhoun, who’s an inveterate gambler and has signed Fred’s identify to a $10,000 IOU. When Fred sends flowers with a romantic observe to Lois they’re delivered to Lilli by mistake. She assumes that Fred remains to be in love along with her – which, even from the beginning, is sort of probably true – and reads the observe, discovering who the flowers had been actually meant for simply earlier than she is because of carry out a pivotal scene with Fred, setting the stage (so to talk) for the fireworks to start out.

In fact, the blame lies with Shakespeare, however all productions of Kiss Me, Kate should face the reality that if we apply #MeToo standards it isn’t a really PC story. As initially staged it requires the fiercely impartial and headstrong Kate to ultimately grow to be completely submissive and compliant, and to assist carry this about she is even put over Petruchio’s knee and spanked. That could be a no-no in 2024 as is Petruchio actually cracking the whip to rein Kate in. In Bartlett Sher’s good new manufacturing – amongst different revisions to handle any misogyny – the spanking is a passing menace and the whip cracking, properly no spoilers from me, is one in all many laugh-out-loud moments on this conflict of egos and tempers.

To be truthful it’s Lilli who principally now has the higher hand all through and her acquiescence within the ultimate scene when Fred and Lilli reunite – within the guise of Petruchio and Kate – is with a wink to recommend ‘the performs the factor’ and their new life collectively will in actuality be one thing else completely. I’m wondering how a lot Sher desires us to consider the perPetually stormy relationship of the twice-married and twice-divorced Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who starred within the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli movie of Taming of the Shrew? Particularly since in Sher’s staging Fred and Lilli are forged with actors considerably older than typical.

This can be a no-expense-spared manufacturing and should be destined for a life (someplace) after the run at Barbican Theatre. I’ve seen (dwell or broadcast) a lot theatre, ballet and opera all through the world; nevertheless, solely hardly ever have I seen a set as monumental (and reasonable) as Michael Yeargan’s for this new Kiss me, Kate. Using the Barbican Theatre’s turntable and huge stage we see the motion of the musical transfer seamlessly from onstage, to dressing rooms backstage and to occasions within the alley outdoors the stage door. No matter the place you might be sitting watching Kiss Me, Kate you may assume – as I initially did – that the extraordinary set would swamp the performances, however it’s a credit score to a unbelievable forged that it by no means does. Sher’s route has a sure filmic fluidity to it and with Catherine Zuber’s vibrant and vibrant costumes capturing the interval of the late Nineteen Forties to perfection, a lot riotous enjoyable is had by all.

That Adrian Dunbar – well-known from TV’s Line of Responsibility – is making his musical theatre debut as Fred has tended to overshadow ‘Broadway legend’ Stephanie J Block showing on a London stage for the primary time. Dunbar doesn’t let the present down although I urge you to see Block gentle up the stage. Her Kate is fiercely clever, but starved of the success and standing, in addition to the love/affection, she craves. Because the musical progresses you realise she has by no means utterly fallen out of affection for Fred regardless that she is being courted by a blowhard US basic. Block is at her easiest when the pair are at battle and she or he scowls and snarls splendidly throughout Kate’s ‘I Hate Males’ – making me really imagine she really did – while bringing an affecting vulnerability to ‘So In Love’. Allied to Block’s impeccable comedian timing is her distinctive singing voice from the primary duet with Dunbar’s Fred; although sadly his personal contribution was one thing lower than ‘Wunderbar’.

Adrian Dunbar is suitably – and believably – rakish and louche as Fred and will get higher the extra emotional and exasperated his character turns into on the occasions unfolding to undermine his relationships and the success of his present. (His preliminary Irish-American accent returns ‘house’ to Dunbar’s Enniskillen roots a number of instances in the course of the musical.) Dunbar does his easiest to beat the tongue-twisting and demanding ‘I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua’ and the reflective ‘The place Is The Life That Late I Led?’. His singing proves he’s an actual trouper and has an interesting high quality with out suggesting in any method he’s a real musical theatre performer.

Among the finest causes to see this revival is Georgina Onuorah’s excellent efficiency because the tart-with-a-heart Lois/Bianca; she is completely pure, partaking, charismatic, and a tremendous comedian actor. Onuorah introduced a singular aggrieved air to her ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ duet with Invoice and later gave the showstopping ‘All the time True To You In My Trend’ a splendidly tongue-in-cheek, cheery, completely self-confident edge.

The corporate of Kiss Me, Kate carry out ‘Too Darn Scorching’ © Johan Persson

As Invoice, Charlie Stemp is an excellent dancer who lastly will get some vital time within the highlight tap-dancing centre stage because the second act begins with a rousing efficiency of ‘Too Darn Scorching’ led by Jack Butterworth’s Paul. All of it picks up appreciable steam, enabling the members of the ensemble to totally display their dancing prowess in veteran Anthony Van Laast’s high-energy and exuberant choreography. In reality, there is no such thing as a actual weak hyperlink within the forged with every seeming a triple-threat as singers, dancers and actors. A vibrant Josie Benson units a excessive normal proper from the beginning in the course of the opening enthusiastic scene-setting ‘One other Op’nin’, One other Present’.

Each time they’re wherever close to the stage Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay merely steal the scene as the 2 pinstripe-suited, fedora-wearing, gun-toting hoodlums who present as much as gather on Fred’s debt and — to their preliminary dismay and eventual delight — find yourself getting concerned (as producers!) in all of the shenanigans onstage. Theirs was a sometimes British ‘Carry On Prohibition’-take on a pair of heavies however they totally deserved the repeated returns they get for another verse in the course of the spotlit pun-filled ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. This music is Kiss Me, Kate’s tribute to the Bard and to theatre itself.

Like most musicals of Broadway’s Golden Years Kiss Me, Kate runs headlong to its finish after the interval. Lilli ultimately comes to understand what her life could grow to be if she goes forward and marries the boorish Normal Harrison Howell (Peter Davidson chewing the surroundings and his cigar). As Kate she ultimately returns to Fred/Petruchio and ‘All’s Nicely That Ends Nicely’ … oh sorry improper play!

All credit score to the sixteen listed musicians led by Stephen Ridley who settled after an iffy begin to give pretty much as good an account of the Cole Porter’s infectiously tuneful rating as you’ll hope for dwell. Kiss Me, Kate will probably be nice night time out for anybody wanting an undemanding, very pleasant, five-star night of musical theatre nostalgia.

For all followers of Adrian DuNBAr please look out for the ‘wee donkey’!

Jim Pritchard

Featured Picture: [l-r] Hammed Animashaun  and Nigel Lindsay (because the Gangsters) with Adrian Dunbar (Fred) in Kiss Me, Kate © Johan Persson

Director – Bartlett Sher
Choreographer – Anthony Van Laast
Set designer – Michael Yeargan
Costume designer – Catherine Zuber
Lighting designer – Donald Holder
Sound designer – Adam Fisher
Musical supervisor and director – Stephen Ridley

Adrian Dunbar – Fred Graham / Petruchio
Stephanie J. Block – Lilli Vanessi / Katherine
Charlie Stemp – Invoice Calhoun / Lucentio
Georgina Onuorah – Lois Lane / Bianca
Nigel Lindsay – Gangster
Hammed Animashaun – Gangster
Peter Davison – Normal Harrison Howell
Josie Benson – Hattie
Jack Butterworth – Paul
Jude Owusu – Harry Trevor / Baptista
Carl Au – Ensemble / Hortensio
Jordan Crouch – Ensemble / Gremio
Gary Milner – Ensemble / Ralph
James Hume – Ensemble / Pops

Alisha Capon, Shani Cantor, Maya de Faria, Amelia Kinu-Muus, Jacqui Jameson, Lucas Koch, Alex Lodge, Nell Martin, Anna McGarahan, John Stacey, Harrison Wilde – Ensemble