/Kiss Me Kate: Opera North (2018)

Kiss Me Kate: Opera North (2018)


Opera North’s talented and fun-loving production, comprising of eighteen characters, ten dancers and a large chorus, is now showing at the London Coliseum and it captures the hearts of many musical and opera lovers. This is Opera North’s second major revival following The Old Vic’s 2012 production of Cole Porter, Bella and Samuel Spewack’s Broadway masterpiece. Colin Richmond’s bright Elizabethan costumes and flamboyant set designs of Bianca, Kate and father Baptista’s stately home (based off the Shakespeare play) are impressive and ambitious.

A scene from Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter @ Grand Theatre, Leeds. An Opera North and Welsh National Opera Production. Conductor, James Holmes. Directed by Jo Davies.
Fred performed by Quirjin de Lang and Lili by Stephanie Corley. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Since I saw Kiss Me Kate an irritating question lingers in my mind: why has it taken almost 70 years for Kiss Me Kate to take to the West End stage? This brilliant show made its debut on Broadway in 1948. Whatever the reason for its overdue theatrical presence, the theatre world has clearly missed out on its catchy tunes, joyous music and witty spirit. That said, it isn’t without its imperfections like the misogyny and inferior picture it paints of its female characters, predating the 1950s. The show is based off Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, sharing the same plot, yet not the dialogue.

I found Kiss Me Kate, directed by revival director Ed Goggin, to be the icing on the cake, especially as I enjoy both opera and musical productions – two of my favourite genres bundled together. I can only applaud Opera North for recreating an entertaining night for many.

Opera North chorus and dancers.Photo by Tristram Kenton.

The production is a play within a play. The story has the usual misplaced love scenarios: chasing romance, musical hits and theatre shenanigans sure to grab the audience’s attention and tickle their imagination. The characters perform on stage as we get a sneak peek of them in rehearsals, that is before the screens are turned and they actually play their roles in Shakespeare’s play.

The leading love story is between Fred Graham (Quirjin de Lang) and Lili Vanessi (Stephanie Corley) – they have gorgeous opera voices. There’s added tomfoolery from the likes of Lois Lane (Zoë Rainey) and Bill Calhoun (Alan Burkitt). They too have special talents from singing, charming the audience and tap dancing. Burkitt is super slick and fast on the heels. There are also the mischievous gunmen (comic and entertaining duo, Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin) who chase Fred for some supposedly outstanding debt.

Fred performed by Quirjin de Lang with Opera North chorus and dancers. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

The best parts of Kiss Me Kate are its songs, including ‘Another Op’nin, Another Show’, ‘Wunderbar’, ‘We Open In Venice’, ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’, ‘Too Darn Hot’ and ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. I hadn’t heard of any of these numbers before until I saw this production, and it stuck to my head like a bee in a buttercup. (I was singing these songs after the show, on my way home.) The Orchestra of Opera North includes 60 musicians who performed magnificently under the baton of James Holmes.

Favourite scenes include Shovelton and Savournin’s hilariously addictive execution of ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. In front of the stage curtain, and after three to four rounds of singing the same chorus, they point their guns at the conductor and the audience as they carry on amusing the audience with funny uses of Shakespeare’s many titles. Lang and Corley’s duo ballads were sweet, melodious and utterly romantic. (It’s the kind of songs I know my mum would like.) The chorus and dancers shouldn’t go unmentioned, though. Energy levels were high and that’s because they kept up the momentum. And despite the small staging, not as spaced out as the London Coliseum, Opera North’s production still manages to pack a punch. Once you see Kiss Me Kate, you’ll be hooked to the score’s musical numbers.

Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as the gunmen. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Opera North’s Kiss Me Kate is now showing at the London Coliseum until 30 June. Tickets available online here.

(I was provided a press ticket to review the opera.)