Brush Up Your Shakespeare
Review: Kiss Me Kate - Kilworth House Theatre - playing until 16th July.
KISS Me Kate is one of the two most famous musical 'adaptations' of Shakespeare for the stage (the other being West Side Story).
Focusing on a theatre company putting up a musical version of 'The Taming of The Shrew', the story traces the main relationship between director/leading man Fred Graham and his ex-wife/leading lady Lilli Vanessi as they respectively portray the Shakespearean roles of Petruchio and Katherine (the Shrew to be tamed, of course!).
Throw in a deliciously naughty second lead actress Lois Lane and her gambling-addict beau Bill Calhoun, as well as a couple of gangsters mistakenly chasing after Fred for Bill's latest debt, and the stage is set for quite an opening - both onstage and off!
Can the feuding Fred and Lilli, still in love with each other despite Fred's ego and Lilli's fiance, get their act together before the curtain goes down on the play?
Ironic to learn that Cole Porter was at first none too keen to pen the show’s, now famous, music and lyrics asserting that ‘Shakespeare was too highbrow as a source for a musical.’
Instead, Cole Porter goes on to outdo himself here with a toe-tappingly catchy score, including Wunderbar, Another Op’nin, Another Show, the jazz-influenced Too Darn Hot and, its hilarious nod to the son of Stratford himself, in Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
But, dare I say, if you’re not a fan of the Bard, you should not be put off. For this latest offering at Kilworth House, all you need is an appreciation of musical theatre at its very best – for that’s what you’ll get!
Director Matthew White and his team have assembled a talented troupe of performers who, in my opinion, would rival any in the West End, and packed out audiences in Leicestershire are reaping the benefits night after night.
Caroline Sheen and Matthew McKenna are a sheer delight to behold as the feuding couple whose relationship blurs the lines between life and theatre. Lilli gives as good as she gets in her tiffs with Fred, who is played with an air of consummate superiority by McKenna. What makes these two histrionic egotists bearable is the lush music Mr. Porter has given them. Their voices more than do justice to these love songs with operatic grandeur, and their canny performances capture the subtle mix of emotions in a love that has been exhausted, without being extinguished.
The show’s second couple, performers moving up in class from the seedy world of nightclubs, get no such soaring arias. Their numbers - Bianca” Always True to You in My Fashion and Why Can’t You Behave? - are sharp and satirical rather than lyrical. But in the hands of Monique Young, as Lois Lane, and Justin Thomas, as Bill Calhoun, the comic-sidekick tunes come across with star-turn force.
A little less virtuosic, but a scene-stealer in its own way is the soft shoe performance of Brush Up Your Shakespeare from the hapless heavies on the trail of an unpaid debt, played by Cory English and Carl Sanderson. This scene, you may remember, earned itself a place in the much lauded RSC Live last year.
Set among the idyllic backdrop of Kilworth House Hotel and gardens in North Kilworth, (and with the weather Gods smiling), there are few more enjoyable experiences than taking in a show at this covered outdoor theatre venue. And Kiss Me Kate is among the best.
I promise you’ll return home with a wide smile and song – or two – in your heart.
If music be the food of love, play on. . .