“If Kiss Me, Kate isn’t the best musical comedy I ever saw, I don’t remember what the best musical comedy I ever saw was called.” So said the New York Daily Mirror when the show opened more than half a century ago.
With the most recent Broadway/West End production now touring, it’s great to see that this is no watery, scaled-down, reduced-budget affair. Every aspect is as fresh and tight as it was in London, and the new company offers extra delights too, including much more comedy and warmth, under the intelligent direction of Petra Siniawski.
With music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and a sharp, witty book by Sam and Bella Spewack, added to stylish, polished and exciting choreography (original West End and Broadway by Kathleen Marshall, tour by Vikki Coote), and Shakespeare’s underlying love-and-loathing story, what a return to the stage it makes!
Craig Urbani brings heart, a lot of humour and a newly-discovered richness to his voice as Fred Graham, alongside Julie-Alanah Brighten as his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. While working together on a touring musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, the divorced actors find their turbulent off-stage relationship affects their on-stage performance, with emotive and hilarious results. Brighten’s Vanessi has maturity and depth. Together, these two create a real sense that Fred and Lilli need each other as much personally as professionally.
Former EastEnderMichael Greco and comedian-turned-gameshow-host-turned actor Les Dennis also have fun with their roles as gangsters, sent to mistakenly recover a debt from Fred. They become firmly ensconced in theatrical life, joining in the play-within-a-play and making an entertaining job of performing one of Porter’s most ingenious ditties, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.
There’s some great dance work from the hard-working ensemble, especially on “Too Darn Hot”, which positively sizzles with energy – and keep your eyes out for Mike Denman, a real showman in the making who certainly knows how to sell a number.
Talking of numbers, if the fabulous “Another Op’nin, Another Show” and “So in Love” are still not enough to set your spine tingling, listen to the powerhouse vocals of sensational 19-year-old Michelle Francis on “Tom Dick or Harry”, and “Always True to You” and that’ll surely do it.
Looks like the New York Daily Mirror may still be right. Wunderbar indeed!
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at the Birmingham Hippodrome)