Another classic musical arrives on the stage of the Coliseum in London. Cole Porter’s witty and entertaining story of the backstage dramas of a company putting on The Taming of the Shrew is brought to town by Opera North. Ed Goggin has restaged the version originally directed for the company by Jo Davies in 2015 and it’s a barnstorming success, filling the cavernous Coliseum stage with a fine mixture of big singing and dancing numbers like Too Darned Hot and witty solo numbers like the standout Always True to You in my Fashion. The show looks great and the big crowd scenes are never less than enthralling.
Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi are the warring couple whose romantic relationship is over – maybe – but who must work together playing Petruchio and Kate to ensure the success of their touring version of Shakepeare’s comedy on its trek around American cities. Contrasted with the tribulations of the “serious couple” is the affair of Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun playing Bianca and Lucentio – they are the “comic couple” whose misadventures provide the light against the shade of the tribulations of Fred and Lilli.
Quirin de Lang as Fred and Stephanie Corley as Lilli prove more than capable of providing both the sparky comedy of the warring couple and the poignant moments of a love affair that is on the rocks but not yet sunk – they both sing So in Love at different moments in the story and make the most of this superb song. But the touches of operetta don’t for me work as well as the ‘out-and-out Broadway’ of the numbers that Zoe Rainey and Alan Burkitt get as Lois and Bill. True in my Fashion is for me the highpoint of the whole show with Rainey commanding the stage and making the most of all the witty lyrics that are the trademark of Cole Porter at his sublime best. And she is almost matched by Burkitt in his show-stopping tap-dance number towards the end of Act 2. There are so many highlights but I must single out the bumbling gangsters, played superbly by Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin, and their hysterical version of Brush up your Shakespeare. But the success of the evening is really anchored in the sense of ensemble that the chorus and orchestra of Opera North bring to the whole thing – it may not be Verdi but they seem to be having a great time.
The set is brilliant. The backstage grime and the sumptuous staging of the Shrew are equally impressive – for a touring version of a big musical it is astonishing and one wonders how many HGVs were needed to get it from Leeds to London. If I have any reservations they relate to the sometimes jarring contrast between the operetta style and the musical style Porter brings to different parts of the show – and to the problematic story line of the Shrew itself. Kate’s final speech about the need for wives to obey their husbands is no less objectionable in Porter’s version than in the original – and the little bit of “who leaves the stage first” business that follows it doesn’t really help. But these are minor matters – we leave the theatre on a high with memories of superb ensemble dancing and singing and some of the best musical songs ever written.
- Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
- Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
- Director: Jo Davies (revived by Ed Goggin)
- Producer: Opera North
- Cast includes: Quirijn de Lang, Stephanie Corley, Zoe Rainey, Alan Burkitt
- Coliseum, London
- Until 30th June 2018