Another opening, another show! This is how Opera North open their production of Cole Porter’s backstage musical Kiss Me Kate, with an appropriately meta-theatrical number about opening a show for the first time. Flawless, full of energy and an all-round feel-good performance; this opening number sets the tone for the rest of the show. An all singing, all dancing comedy spectacle, Kiss Me Kate is an irresistible piece of comedy and musical gold, and something that I certainly didn’t expect from a classical opera company!
This is truly musical theatre at its finest. The plot follows a production of a musical version of Taming of the Shrew and the fractious relationship between the show’s director, producer, and leading man, Fred Graham (played by Quirijn De Lang), and his leading lady and ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (played by Jeni Bern). Switching between the performance of the Shrew and the backstage of the production, the conflict brews on and off stage to hilarious effect throughout. This classic battle of the sexes is complimented by the secondary romance between ‘actors’ Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun, and the antics of the brilliantly funny gangster duo, played by Joseph Shovelton and John Savourni.
It is charismatic Dutch baritone Quirijn De Lang and opera singer Jeni Bern that undoubtedly steal the show in their lead roles as Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Katherine. In number after number their powerful operatic voices command the stage and the audience, giving each song a rich quality that is non-existent in most ordinary musicals. Their equally strong voices are reflective of the characters they play, with Bern giving an excellent fiery performance against De Lang’s slick, charming Fred/Petruchio; a pairing that that bubbles with chemistry. During the moments when this backstage tension spills into their performance of The Shrew, this is where the show’s comedic element is at its pinnacle, as after all, what is funnier that a show going terribly wrong?
“The medal for the very best song absolutely has to go to ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ performed by Shovelton and Savourni”
In a show full of toe tapping musical numbers it is difficult to even pick favourites, but a mention must go to Lois’ fabulous thrice reprised solo of ‘Always True To You in My Fashion’ performed by Tiffany Graves, and the wonderfully cheeky musical number ‘Too Darn Hot’. What with the wonderful choreography and catchy nature of these songs there were some members of the audience that were very, very tempted to jump up and sing along. However, the medal for the very best song absolutely has to go to ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ performed by Shovelton and Savourni, the two gangsters. With personal weaknesses for both Shakespeare plays and a good pun, it was inevitable that this was going to be my favourite song. The way it is performed by the duo, with asides to each other, and the casual threatening of the conductor in the orchestra pit (yes really), they had the whole audience in stitches of laughter with their witty rendition. And yes, I may have considered downloading the song.
Despite being threatened at gunpoint, the orchestra do an amazing job, conducted by David Charles Abell. It always makes a massive difference to have a live orchestra for a musical, and it is certainly felt in the fullness of sound in every song that swells through the audience. Having a play within a play, also meant that the orchestra were recognised, and occasionally addressed during the performance which was a refreshing change and truly broke down the fourth wall of the production.
“Opera North’s production of Kiss Me Kate was pretty much faultless”
The staging was an interesting element of the performance; relying mainly on some revolving set panels, they were moved to show the switch between on stage and off stage, and allowed the audience to see scenes from all angles of the fictional theatre. Although some scene changes could have been a fraction smoother and quicker, this could just be the desired effect, drawing attention to the performance within the play.
Aside from one possible slip that quite honestly only added to the hilarity of the show (watch out for the surprisingly accurate aim of one of the performers!) Opera North’s production of Kiss Me Kate was pretty much faultless. Performed with great wit and panache, with fabulously high energy musical numbers mixed with some stunning more classical songs, there was not one member of the audience that did not leave Theatre Royal with a smile tonight. An excellent opportunity to brush up your Shakespeare, this show is a must see.
‘Kiss Me Kate’ is running at Theatre Royal until Saturday 21st November