Review Round-up: Kiss Me Kate is Too Darn Hot
Considered by many to be Porter's masterpiece, Kiss Me Kate’s many classic songs include “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “So in Love”, “Too Darn Hot”, “Wunderbar”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and the title song. This new staging is choreographed by multi award-winner Stephen Mear.
...the one really frenzied number, “Too Darn Hot,” which opens the second act, suggests the opposite of the lassitude overtaking the backstage effort; and it’s executed with dazzling ensemble brilliance in Stephen Mear’s choreography, led by the irrepressible Jason Pennycooke as Fred’s crackerjack dresser... terrific star profile by Bourne and Waddingham, the first every bit as dashing and handsome as Howard Keel in the movie, the second a beautiful Valkyrie with the lungs of an operatic diva and the pout of a monumental minx... Nunn and his designer, Robert Jones, have slung a false proscenium on a diagonal across the stage, and the action moves effortlessly around it; the costuming and grouping creates a series of colourful Renaissance tableaux, while musical director Gareth Valentine and his band provide a perfect, and well-balanced, orchestral back-cloth... Adam Garcia and Holly Dale Spencer are superb as the second couple.
Hannah Waddingham and Alex Bourne ignite some fizzing on stage chemistry in the leading roles of Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham... When Waddingham’s big and busty Lilli realises that Fred (who looks spookily like the young Trevor Nunn) has sent an exact copy of her wedding bouquet to his new squeeze, a dumb blonde ingénue, the power and pain she brings to her number "I Hate Men" is awesome... Stephen Mear’s choreography bursts with wit and invention, especially during the spectacularly staged "Too Darn Hot", which sees the impish hoofer Jason Pennycooke gliding across the stage while doing the splits. Robert Jones’ designs atmospherically evoke a tatty old touring theatre. And David Burt and Clive Rowe offer a deliciously deadpan double act as the mobsters who muscle their way into the show.
If the backstage/onstage antics aren’t quite as sharp as in the sublime Noises Off, there’s certainly much fun to be had in watching the feisty Waddingham turn Lilli ever more shrewish. Sam and Bella Spewack’s book never quite convinces me that Lilli and Fred are destined for each other, but Stephen Mear’s high-octane choreography, showcased in the set-piece for “Too Darn Hot”, leaves no room for brooding... Holly Dale Spencer as ditzy nightclub singer Lois excels in my favourite hymn to matrimonial equivocation, “Always True To You In My Fashion”. As the lovable hoodlums with a taste for the greasepaint, David Burt and Clive Rowe provide the evening’s showstopper with the delightful “Brush up Your Shakespeare”, milking two deserved encores.
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... Alex Bourne's rousing tribute in “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?”... to his old Italianate flames... is part Petruchio, part the recollection of a showbiz Casanova. Only Lilli's final song of submission lacks the irony we expect of contemporary Kates... joyous show that owes much to the brilliant, infinitely varied choreography of Stephen Mear... 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... “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is performed by David Burt and Clive Rowe... with a stateliness that reminded me of Laurel and Hardy.
How do you solve a problem like The Taming of the Shrew? Like this, ideally... And Trevor Nunn has revived it with relish in a production, first seen this summer at the Chichester Festival Theatre, that purrs satisfyingly as it goes through each of its different gears: from farce to show-within-a-show spectacle, from pathos to tap-dancing... There are moments early on, even with “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” to warm everyone up, in which the cast are feeling their way for the right tone and the rapport between Alex Bourne’s Fred and Hannah Waddingham’s Lilli is slightly forced. But then the plot gets going... Great songs, brilliantly sung: that helps. So does a scintillating star turn from Waddingham, opening her heart one moment, turning sulky, bullish the next, a hundred moods but only one great passion. Then there is Bourne’s performance, which blooms as he adopts his actor-managerial on-stage charm, flashing his pearly-whites like daggers.