Kiss Me, Kate


Cole Porter’s Kiss me, Kate is a gloriously jazzy musical, with touches of Shakespeare, Glenn Miller, and Tom Lehrer-like rhymes. At the end of last night’s performance, the audience rose to its feet spontaneously. Given half a chance it would have joined the chorus and done a Mamma Mi! sing-along. From the moment Lilli and Fred, the Shrew’s Petruchio and Kate, played by Adrian Dunbar and Stephanie J. Block, sang the duet ‘Wunderbar’, we were on our way. Dunbar’s voice, deep and mellow, stood up well to Block’s truly wunderbar notes. Her singing register and range were among the triumphs of the show. At times Block’s vocals were as bold and trilling as the Queen of the Night’s in The Magic Flute.

If the misogyny of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is hardly palatable to modern audiences – Fred, as Petruchio, apologises for playing a male chauvinist brute – Kiss me, Kate is cheerfully subversive of the Elizabethan taming plot. What better Shakespeare to take on as metatheatre than the farcical Shrew, which itself starts with a play-outside-the-play, an induction that has historically invited brilliant cross-overs between outside frame and inside drama (who can forget the 1978 RSC Michael Bogdanov Shrew, starring a boisterous Jonathan Pryce as both Christopher Sly and Petruchio on a motorcycle).

If the Shrew lacks humanity and joy, Cole Porter’s Kiss me, Kate almost bursts with unadulterated fun. Its song and dance numbers rank among the most glorious ones ever composed. It is up there with South Pacific, Chicago, and Singin’ in the Rain. The latter is brilliantly evoked in the electrifying performance of ‘Too Darn Hot’, which launches Act 2 after the interval. It was the moment when last night’s Kiss me, Kate announced that it had all the makings of a London theatre season classic. Its dynamic and choreography were magic, and Charlie Stemp proved once again that he is one of the most gifted tap dancer-singers of the modern stage. Shades of Gene Kelly here – not easy on a stage where the orchestra is embedded in a pit sunk into the stage itself.

A roar of applause acknowledged the stunning rendition by the brilliant Georgina Onuorah of ‘Always True to You in my Fashion’, perhaps the hottest number of the evening, as her singing and acting were perfectly attuned. Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay shone as the two comedian gangsters. They have some of the funniest lines in a show full of zany rhymes, as in Petruchio’s hilarious ‘Where is the Life that Late I Led’.  But even its ‘Momo / Duomo’ and ‘gay / Pompeii’ could not quite compete with the rhetorical zest of ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’. Animashaun and Lindsay, superbly directed, treated the audience to a crescendo of ever more inventive song and dance routines, culminating in a Fred Astaire tribute. The audience was tangibly itching to join them.

The cameo appearance by Peter Davison worked well. Full marks also to the live orchestra and conductor who probably deserved a curtain call.

Barbican Theatre

Until: ,

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, including an interval

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter

A book by Bella and Samuel Spewack

Directed by Bartlett Sher

Cast includes:  Adrian Dunbar, Stephanie J. Block, Charlie Stemp, Georgina Onuorah, Nigel Lindsay, Hammed Animashaun and Peter Davison.

Photo by Johan Persson