Classic songs, breathless dancing, innuendo and long pauses: Kiss Me, Kate

The Chichester Festival production of Kiss Me Kate, now playing at the Old Vic Theatre, has a wonderful cast and thrilling and lively musical numbers. If there is one thing to be bothered by this production it is that between the songs things are not so lively. The dialogue is treated as if it were Shakespeare, and some of it is... Delivered so slowly... And deliberately... That much of the fun feels drained at times from the show. Thankfully there are too so many musical numbers that are well-conceived and performed that you will find yourself waking up to enjoy them.

Star Hannah Waddingham was indisposed last Friday night when I caught this show and so Carolyn Maitland took the lead. Given the show is very traditionally staged (set backstage at a theatre in 1948 the set is backstage at a theatre circa 1948), it was a refreshing opportunity to inject a bit of uncertainty into the evening's proceedings. Cole Porter's musical, while a classic, only has two female roles so it is nice to see someone else get a shot at one of them. Maitland showed she could be a rough and ready Kate too. By the time she got to the number "I hate men" she had made the role her own and the audience was with her all the way.


Cole Porter's show is about the staging of a musical version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew by a touring company that hopes to take the show to Broadway. It was one of Porter's biggest successes and was one of the first musicals to integrate the story with the music and lyrics after Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma. And the story is slightly complicated...

It's about leading man and director Fred starring as Petruchio opposite his ex wife Lilli as Katharine in a musical version of the Taming of the Shrew. Since they parted ways she has become a movie star of sorts but her career has stalled so she is back on stage... The scene is set for a battle of wills as he covets the other star of the show, Lois. What is wonderful about the show is how the action backstage influence the on-stage performances of the characters and vice versa. Over the duration of the piece this constant reflection through the story and songs builds the layered and complex relationship that exists between the two. Alex Bourne is a surprise as Fred, particularly as he gets to show off his vocal talents as the show progresses.

Alongside this is the equally complicated relationship between Lois and Bill who play Bianca and Lucentio. Holly Dale Spencer and Adam Garcia create a couple here that are together despite his gambling and her interests in other men. Both are terrific singers and dancers but watching Garcia in the second act sing and dance through a difficult and spectacular staging of the song Bianca is a particular highlight of this production. He makes singing Cole Porter's wordy lyrics while dancing look so effortless. Yet the sweat on his brow and near shortness of breath suggests some seriously hard work going on here...

All told there is too much going on in this show that you can't help but like it. This includes a showstopping turn by Clive Rowe and David Burt as the two gangsters who unwittingly find themselves on stage and end up singing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare". Cole Porter is at his sophisticated yet slightly smutty best with this song.

It runs until March 2013 at the Old Vic and is definitely for people who like a good old fashioned musical with some seriously fancy footwork... Just mind the long pauses...

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