Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kiss Me Kate Review

Kiss Me Kate
(Festival Theatre, Chichester)

The Chichester Festival Theatre continues it's catalogue of musical productions with Kiss Me Kate. I was eager to see another musical produced by the theatre following on from Sweeney Todd, especially when it was being directed by Trevor Nunn, the original director of Les Miserables and the impressive King Lear with Ian Mckellan. My experience of this musical comprises of an amateur production and the film, and I was excited to see this musical with a number of well known West End actors.

Whilst the musical is set around a 'musical-within-a-musical', The Shrew, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, connections can also be made between the stories in the play and this musical. The director and leading actor of the musical, Fred Graham/Petrucio (Alex Bourne), has to cope with his shrewd co-star and divorced wife, Lilli Vanessi/Katherine (Hannah Waddingham). On top of that he has to cope with debts owed by supporting actor, Bill Cahoun/Lucentio (Adam Garcia), and is under the watchful eye of mobsters (David Burt and Clive Rowe). Eventually Lilli discovers that Fred is attracted to a new supporting actress, Lois Lane/Bianca (Holly Dale Spencer), and tensions begin to arise. Their arguments begins to give flavour, and difficulties, to The Shrew.

Alex Bourne was the highlight of the show as the zealous and rough Fred Graham. He revelled in his role as he sung Wunderbar and Where is the life that I had led?. My reaction to Hannah Waddingham was mixed. I was expecting a riotous performance from her, especially in the role of Katherine, but I was slightly disappointed. Whilst she made every effort to hold a perfect American accent, needed for the shrewd Lilli Vanessi, she held back from the feistiness of her role. Though she did vigorously strop about in the ferocious, and ‘to the point’ song, I hate men, her singing did sound breathy. She even sounded like the Wicked Witch of the West from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Wizard of Oz after a while. However she did, like her character, settle down by the end, and was able to pull off an impressive performance.
David Burt and Clive Rowe were very good as the brawny gangsters, and their strong accents allowed them to give a quaint Brush up your Shakespeare. Bill Cahoun was a rather underwritten role for Adam Garcia, yet he performed some fine dance numbers alongside Holly Dale Spencer as the nervous yet alluring Lois Lane. The ensemble too was excellent in this production as they set up a world of show business, both onstage and backstage. The opening of the second act for instance started with them sitting around the stage fanning themselves as the song Too Darn Hot began.
Praise must also go to Robert Jones for designing this world with such detail on the thrust stage of the Festival Theatre. Before the production, the audience was introduced to an elaborate proscenium stage at the back, beyond which was a detailed setting of corridors, dressing rooms, and a sparse stage on the morning before opening night, ready to be filled by stagehands, assistants, and actors. They came on hoisting up stage lamps, brought on costumes and piano, whilst the actors rehearsed the choreography and songs. There was nothing “cheesy and cheap” about it, which was what Jones wanted, as mentioned by the programme.
Also, he wanted a “space that became everything...backstage, on-stage, and mid-performance”, and he succeeded. There was never a moment where nothing was happening during scene transitions, and even when Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi stepped away from their dressing rooms during Wunderbar, the lighting would recreate their performance from years ago with colour. Elsewhere, the lighting would land itself some striking and elaborate scenes. The performance of The Shrew was lit up by bulbs around the proscenium arch, and there was a certain warmth in the lighting during the solo and duet songs.
As a musical-within-a-musical that was based around a historic play, The Shrew itself was designed with black and white backdrops that reminded one of the Trompe-l’oeil set designs. Even the ensemble was dressed in black and white Elizabethan clothes, allowing the main characters to stand out. Set pieces were also made out of black and white cloth and were pulled out of a box, including a large tree, and set up by the actors, giving a magical edge to such songs like We open in Venice. The only problem with this is that it took a little while to set up, and the set pieces did look askew at times.
I had a fun time seeing this musical. Whilst I was slightly disappointed by Hannah Waddingham, the cast gave some wonderful performances, and I loved the amount of attention given to presenting the setting. See this at a low Top Price.

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