Of music theatre inspired by Shakespeare plays like Verdi’s Macbeth and Tchaikovsky’s The Merchant of Venice, both in the repertoire of the Welsh National Opera this autumn to help celebrate the 400th anniversary since the death of Shakespeare, the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate is certainly at the other end of the spectrum from the operas (along with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse, let us say, which was inspired by The Comedy of Errors). Giuseppe Verdi and Otto Nicolai both were successfully inspired by the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor; but Kiss Me, Kate is a whole other thing.
The script by Bella and Samuel Spewack is one of contemporary wit and sophistication, very Manhattan twentieth-century in approach, creating a contemporary backstage story to frame the Shakespeare play, which itself is filleted intelligently to give the essence of the original along with riffs by Porter on the language and the situations in his memorable songs. Jo Davies has caught the spirit of the show brilliantly; Colin Richmond has done a superb job on sets and costumes; the choreography by Will Tuckett is energetic, superbly witty and completely idiomatic to the era in which the show was originally created, especially in the second half with the “Too Darn Hot” routines; and the cast of operatic performers mixed with West End professionals coheres as a team with a strong sense of the idiom of the golden age of American musicals.
The show is a real treat in every aspect. I was especially pleased with Quirijn de Lang’s performance as Petruchio/Fred Graham and Jeni Bern’s vocally alluring Katharine/Lilli Vanessi. Amelia Adams-Pearce, Alan Burkitt, Landi Oshinowo, Max Parker, Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin all deserve special praise; and, of course, Shovelton and Savournin stop the show with their number “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. Unless you are allergic to American musicals, this is definitely a bright, cheering and totally engaging way to spend an evening in the theatre.