Petruchio and Kate

Kiss me Kate! Quirijn de Lang  as Fred playing Petruchio with Jeni Bern as Lilli playing Kate. Pictures: Richard Hubert Smith

Kiss Me, Kate

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

WHEN Welsh National Opera do a musical they do it big, larger than life big, with one of the biggest, and best productions of this Shakespeare inspired classic you are ever likely to see.

This really is a fabulous evening of musical theatre bringing out all of the romance, wit and sheer brilliance of Cole Porter’s lyrics and score.

Without him The Great American Songbook would be a slim volume indeed and this was his most successful musical, his only one to top 1,000 performances on Broadway.

If you can have Grand Opera then why not Grand Musicals? Thus thelois lane pit is home to a full symphony orchestra, under conductor James Holmes, something beyond Porter’s wildest dreams for his show’s 1948 Broadway premiere and what a gloriously, rich, deep, full sound they provide to the wonderful score.

Then there is WNO’s marvellous chorus, providing an ensemble that is bigger than many a production can muster for a full company including crew, and did I mention the singing? This is an opera company after all and standards are maintained so much so that chorus numbers become choral gems.

The plot is simple, like Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, we have two plays to contend with, the Baltimore opening of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew on stage, and the drama of real romance, or lack of it, backstage with a couple of gun-toting gangsters thrown in.

Incidentally the play is based on a real life warring couple, husband and wife actors Alfred Lunt an Lynn Fontanne who battled their way through a production of The Taming of the Shrew in 1935.

Amelia Adams-Pearce as dizzy blonde Lois Lane and Bianca in the Shrew

And WNO’s warring couple are Fred and Lilli. Dutch operatic baritone Quirijn de Lang has a marvellous voice and makes the switch from opera to Cole Porter with ease in the role of Fred Graham the director, producer and star of the Shakespeare play, Petruchio. He manages some lovely touches of humour and gives us a very funny rendition of Where Is the Life That Late I Led? as, now married, he laments his lost freedom and the girls he once knew – amid a succession of Italian landmarks.

His co-star is movie star, and ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, who plays Katherine, the shrew, on the auspicious occasion of both the opening and the first anniversary of their divorce.

Indisposition of Jenni Bern meant soprano Claire Wild stepped into the role as if born to play it. She was sassy, headstrong, had a nice line in anger, mixed with a bit of hysteria and a voice to die for, whether spitting the words out in I hate men or caressing them in the bittersweet So in love.

The pair go well together, with little sparks of passion and chemistry, which is important; it's not much use having a musical about a pair of ex-lovers who never really fell out of love if we never believe they could be have been an item in the first place.

Bringing the show down market is ex-nightclub showgirl Lois Lane in a wonderful performance from Amelia Adams-Pearce, making her debut with WNO fresh from the West End. She also plays Bianca in true dumb blonde style, but with a bubbly personality and lovely voice. Quite a find. Her Always True to You in My Fashion is a delight.

She has her eye on the gambling, hard drinking irresponsible, Bill Calhoun, who plays Lucentio in the Shrew, all played in easy laid back style by Alan Birkitt, who was last seen in these parts as Jerry Travers in Top Hat. I doubt if there is a better tap dancer around anywhere His solo dance is worth the price of admisthe gunmension alone. See video below. The man is just phenomenal.

Humour comes in stereo from Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as the two gangsters charged with getting $10,000 back from Fred for an IOU gambling debt with his name on it. Now who do we know who is both irresponsible and gambles? Answers on an IOU please . . .

Our humorous hitmen then have to join the cast, in suspenders for the fashion conscious – a nice touch that - to prevent Lilli walking out after a row with Fred so that the show will carry on and Fred will get paid and can honour the IOU he never signed in the first place . . . follow that?

Joseph Shovelton, top, and John Savournin as the two gunmen and debt collectors

The pair are just fun to watch and finish off with the wonderful Brush Up Your Shakespeare and its litany of 13 plays and one poem – count ‘em and see!

Good support too from Landu Oshinowo as Hattie, Max Parker as the tap dancing stage hand Paul, David Peart as would be Lilli suitor Washington insider Harrison Howell, Rosie Hay as stage manager Ralph as well as Morgan Deare as Harry Trevor, he of the dental appointment and Baptista, Kate’s father who is desperate to wed her off an any eligible -i.e. still breathing – man.

There is marvellous singing and dancing from the huge chorus and dancers and Will Tuckett’s choreography is always lively and interesting with never a hint of a crowded stage, even when most of the cast are there, as in Another op’nin. Another show at the hit the ground running start.

Directed with a delightfully light touch by Jo Davies, allowing the music and humour to shine, things are kept moving by a very clever set from Colin Richmond which flies, glides and slides into new scenes as the cast walk on and off. A couple of longer scene changes are covered, panto style, by front of curtain action. This is a fast paced delight. It lasts a shade under three hours, but you would never know it. Time just flies by as you sit back and delight in a night of musical theatre magic. On not to miss. To 12-11-16

Roger Clarke

10-11-16

Videos

Another op'nin, another show

I hate men

Always true to you in my fashion

 

Another Op’nin’, another show

*****

ALL’S well that ends well in this glittering production of Cole Porter’s famous musical about a show within a show.

Leading lady Jeni Bern was indisposed so in stepped award winning soprano Claire Wild to give a stunning performance as Lilli Vanessi and Katherine.

She handled the dual role superbly, first as superstar Lilli preparing for a company’s Baltimore staging of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew while clashing with leading man Fred Graham on the first anniversary of their divorce.

Then Claire was particularly convincing playing the fiery Kate whose father is desperate to get her of his hands and married . . . if only some man would accept the challenge.

Any concerns about the cast switch disappeared as soon as she joined Quirijn de Lang in their first duet – Wunderbar – then later when she sang I Hate Men, though for some reason the explosive hurling of plates and tankards was omitted.

de Lang excelled as Fred Graham and Petruchio, and how the audience enjoyed a rather cheeky view of Kate’s bared anatomy in the spanking scene!

This show was bursting with good music, singing and delightful humour. Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin shone as the gun-toting gangsters who threaten to disrupt the Shrew production but prove a big hit when signing out with Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

Amelia Adams-Pearce is perfect as Lois Lane and Bianca, while Alan Burkitt (Bill Calhoun and Lucentio), who has choreographed for Strictly Come Dancing, scored top marks for his tap dancing.

Great costumes and terrific music from the orchestra conducted by James Holmes capped a great show, directed by Jo Davies,

It was simply Wunderbar! One of the WNO’s finest performances in Birmingham.

Paul Marston 

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