Cole Porter's 1948 Tony-Award-winning musical focuses on the out-of-town try-out of a new musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Sparks fly on stage and off as sparring between the co-stars threatens the opening night.
Featuring Hannah Waddingham, Alex Bourne, Adam Garcia, David Burt and Clive Rowe, Kiss Me Kate runs at Chichester Festival Theatre until 1 September 2012, before transferring to London's Old Vic from 20 November.
“Kiss Me Kate is one of the masterpieces of musical theatre... Throw in director Trevor Nunn, a veteran of Shakespeare and musicals and we should be in for something special. It’s a pity therefore that this potential is not realised. That’s not to say that it’s not good, it is - and excellent in places - but the production never really catches fire in the way that it should... There’s an outstanding Lilli from Hannah Waddingham. She sings superbly, moving seamlessly from light operetta to ballads: Her ‘I Hate Men’ is sung with real venom and she expertly handles the contrast between Lilli and Katharine. As Fred, Alex Bourne also sings superbly, relishing the wordplay in ‘The Life that I Led’, but there’s not enough contrast between the actor and Petruchio. There’s a terrific double act from David Burt and the lugubrious Clive Rowe as the gangsters. ‘It’s Too Darn Hot’ is probably the highlight of the show and features some excellent ensemble work led by Jason Pennycooke, superbly choreographed by Stephen Mear. There’s nothing much wrong with this production... But it could have been better.”
“Hannah Waddingham is Lilli Vanessi, a glam Hollywood star playing Kate in The Shrew. At first Lilli seems haughty and severe. Gradually she shows more complexity. When she sings ‘I Hate Men’ we hear the full textural range of Waddingham’s voice. She’s amusing too — though in truth comedy is something the production could do with a little more of. There are moments of lovely interplay between her and Alex Bourne, who plays Lilli’s ex-husband Fred and Kate’s tamer Petruchio. Vigorous support comes from Holly Dale Spencer, and there’s a shot of pure charm in the form of Adam Garcia. Although Clive Rowe and David Burt feel comparatively underused as a pair of droll gangsters, both earn laughs. At times Nunn’s revival threatens to dissolve into an assortment of impressive but loosely related numbers. Yet if it lacks drive, there’s no faulting the visual lushness and musical richness: Stephen Mear has choreographed some blistering dance scenes, with Robert Jones creating an ingenious design, full of trickery and gorgeous costumes. The production ... doesn’t have the zing of the best of Chichester’s recent transfers (Sweeney Todd and Singin’ in the Rain). But it’s classy and opulent.”
“For a start, Hannah Waddingham is Lilli Vanessi... She deploys a roundedly beautiful voice in lyrical moments, the lower register having the ability to make the sparsest male hair grow on end; yet will roar, growl, and at one point even burb, sprawl akimbo and temporarily suspend all feminine dignity. She is mesmerising... Alex Bourne is Fred Graham / Petruchio, and he is all man; sonorous and macho-basso. Holly Dale Spencer as Lois is a bubbly delight in her Broadway moments and deliberately, beautifully lousy delivering Shakespeare lines, Mark Heenehan a fine American-Eagle caricature as General Harrison Howell, and David Burt and Clive Rowe hysterical as the gangsters who, with charming menace, gradually become stagestruck. It is all you can do not to sing along with ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’. Stephen Mear’s genius as a choreographer (remember Crazy for You) blends authentically silly period showbiz moves with modern edge. Less tap here, but when it comes it blows your head off. Nunn’s finicky theatre-maker’s care achieves the tricky dual vision of the 'onstage' sequences, as what should be happening at all and must be covered up with a quavering 'I know not what to say' from Paul Grunert’s Bapista. And Robert Jones’s design... uses an unexpected simple trick: various rooms and a great tree all made of flimsy muslin are drawn aloft out of boxes by the cast, as if in a conjuring trick, Theatre magic, see?”
“This Sir Trevor Nunn production, an almost complete belter, is vividly staged and has a tight (I do not mean tiddly) band. It also, ooooh boy, has Hannah Waddingham. Where do you start with heavenly Hannah? She’s a bodice-burster built like Boudicca...Mr Bourne, a burly presence and a powerful voice, is perfect. This Fred could be from a silent movie-era Robin Hood... Things start brightly with Another Op’nin, Another Show, the hoofers flashing tonsils and more... Miss Waddingham’s entrance: Marlene Dietrich glamour, curls of cigarette smoke, the pout of a Latin nanny. I didn’t like her blonde barnet much – the wigs she wears at first are a bit dodgy – but she is all heart. Her voice can switch in an instant from warbly knees-up (Wunderbar) to husky ballad (So In Love). Her speaking voice loses its initially uncomfortable echo and she gives a full-throttle commitment to the laughter, repeatedly at the expense of her dignity. Irresistible. Add two terrific mobsters (David Burt and Clive Rowe) and a genuinely touching denouement which puts Shakespeare in his place, and you have a beaut of a show.”
“The production is certainly lavish in Rob Jones’ sumptuously designed sets and costumes, and Cole Porter’s delightful score is given a jazzy, brassy new feel by musical director Gareth Valentine, but elsewhere the production often feels over-extended. The comedy is delivered with a particularly heavy hand; despite the ever-capable David Burt and Clive Rowe as the supposedly comic gangsters, there’s not a laugh to be had, even in their usually infallible ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ number. Hannah Waddingham brings an elegantly imposing figure in both looks and clear, powerful soprano voice to the role of Lilli Vanessi... though she had a worrying moment when I feared a Janet Jackson-style revelation. Alex Bourne is solid and attractive as Fred Graham, reminding me of a younger Philip Quast. But the biggest presence is Adam Garcia in the comparatively small role of Bill Calhoun, the hoofer whose gambling debts drive the subplot. He’s an utterly effortless mover, and steals every scene he is in. Jason Pennycooke also makes a serious dance impression in Too Darn Hot, though the transformation of that song into a big jazz ballet setpiece overdoes it. It’s a frequent indulgence of the production to linger too far and too long on scenes that should move faster. The production ends up more sluggish than charming as a result. In the mirthless proceedings, the songs - irrepressible and irresistible still - are the main life rafts to climb aboard to extract the evening’s pleasures from.”
“...everything’s thrown at it in this scintillating co-production between the Festival Theatre and the Old Vic. There’s top-notch, tautly paced direction from Trevor Nunn. There’s sublime choreography from Stephen Mear, apparently able to make a chorus line of dancers not just glide but float across the stage...From the opening number – Another Op’nin, Another Show – the production succeeds in balancing a necessary sense of artifice with an unforced quality of naturalness. The set-up scene shifts from a series of chaotic comings-and-goings to wave after wave of hoofing delight, with the company pulling together and building up a head of steam like a thundering locomotive...Glorious in the role, Hannah Waddingham doesn’t stint on clichéd hissy behaviour, but she invests it with real hurt, too. Her snarling showstopper I Hate Men is all the stronger for its undertow of palpable wounded pride...With superb support from, among others, a deadpan Clive Rowe and David Burt as the pinstriped mafioso hoodlums who muscle their way into the action and get their come uppance courtesy of the sheepish Brush Up Your Shakespeare, those who think Kiss Me Kate too tame, too theatrical or its assumptions about the sexes too troublingly traditionalist to raise the roof in 2012 should be forced into a gratified state of submission by this belter of a night.”
“...It's a glorious show that gets a pitch-perfect revival from Trevor Nunn and many of his regular musical team...When the wonderful Hannah Waddingham sings I Hate Men with teeth-baring ferocity, you're not sure whether her anger stems from the character of Kate or from Lilli's fury at Fred's dalliance with an ex-nightclub hoofer...Only Lilli's final song of submission lacks the irony we expect of contemporary Kates. But it's a joyous show that owes much to the brilliant, infinitely varied choreography of Stephen Mear. In Wunderbar...he captures the romantic delicacy of old-style operetta. Too Darn Hot, led by Jason Pennycooke as Fred's dresser, becomes a jazzy exploration of sexual tension with echoes of the rump-brandishing style of Bob Fosse. And Brush Up Your Shakespeare is performed by David Burt and Clive Rowe as a pair of gangsters who learned to love the Bard in the prison library, with a stateliness that reminded me of Laurel and Hardy. Virtuosic staging takes precedence over verbal clarity only in Holly Dale Spencer's rendering of Always True to You in My Fashion. But this is a minor blip in a show that looks handsome in Robert Jones's pastiche commedia designs, and that, thanks to Nunn, gives Porter's scintillating numbers a precise emotional context...”