WNO Kiss Me Kate at The Liverpool Empire

Posted on 8 October 2016
By Jeanette Smith
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A woman with a fiery temper and a man with a massive ego collide in Welsh National Opera’s confection of Kiss Me Kate, at the Liverpool Empire.

Cole Porter’s 1948 winsome musical, based on The Taming of the Shrew, meshes Shakespeare’s own words with a modern twist.
With songs such as Another Opening Another Show, Wunderbar, and Brush Up Your Shakespeare, where could you go wrong! Add to this over 70 colourful costumes and you have a winner.

In this clever production we have a sort of play within a play where we see the backstage actions of the cast and onstage Taming of the Shrew, cleverly interwoven. Colin Richmond’s imaginative set slips easily between late forties backstage and the 16th Century extravagance of Padua.

We have star Lilli Vanessi (Jeni Bern) battling with her producer and ex-husband Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang). They may be divorced but when Vanessi sings So in Love, we realise that, for her, the relationship is not over. Bern’s light lyric soprano voice admirably suits this role as Vanessi/Katherine, the shrew. De Lang, the philandering ex-husband, who has eyes for any pouting ingénue who crosses his path, plays his part as both Fred and Petruchio with a gutsy swagger that matches his deep baritone voice .

And one ingénue that he spies is Lois Lane/Bianca (Amelia Adams-Pearce). She has boop-de-boop attitude, blonde hair and wiggly hips. The song Always True To You In My Fashion is a delight, showing her as a good-time girl with a heart of gold. It’s her boyfriend Bill Cahoon/Lucentio, (Alan Birkitt) who gets them all into trouble with his gambling, bringing two bumbling comic ‘heavies’ on to the scene.

The duo , played with great hilarity by Joseph Shovelton and John Savourin, adds even more merriment to the show.

This is a full on production, after a slow start, in which the whole cast sing and dance their hearts out. There are some memorable moments, such as Too Darn Hot, where the ensemble drive up the volume and the temperature. Alan Birkitt’s solo tap dance as Bill Cahoon stood out amongst many marvellous dance routines.

So if you like Shakespeare, musicals and comedy, you have it all here, cleverly written by Samuel and Bella Spewack, from a real story of a warring couple putting on the Taming of the Shrew in 1935!

Eventually the two stories collide, with one having an ‘oh no’ moment and the other a happy one. Petruchio gets his girl and tames the shrew. As Shakespeare said elsewhere, All’s Well That Ends Well.

Kiss Me Kate
Liverpool Empire
Welsh National in conjunction with Opera North
Purple Revolver rating: **** A Tale of Two Halves