Opera North brought their much lauded production of Kiss me Kate to the Festival Theatre tonight and got a riotous response from a packed house. Not only do they prove that opera companies can do justice to musical theatre, but also show that it does help when you have actors who can really sing – not least when you have some great Cole Porter songs lined up. Accompanying the superb vocal performances were talented dancers who made the production swing, their energy matching the rapidly moving production that made the two and a half show go in a flash.
Kiss Me Kate tells the story of a recently-divorced (yet still in love) couple reunited by a theatre company rehearsing Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Mirroring the characters they portray in the play, Kate and Petruchio constantly bicker, masking their true affection for one another. Stephanie Corley in the role of Kate/Lilli Vanessi is one of the many excellent castings for this performance, her singing and acting talents making her the star of the show. She has already shown her worth in previous productions with Opera North and elsewhere: Kiss Me Kate is no exception, as she brings out the fury and humour that make Kate such a fascinating character. She was well matched by Dutch baritone Quirijn De Lang, who portrays Petruchio/Fred Graham superbly (and looks the part too).
Interestingly, there was a contrast with the two minor characters of Lois Lane/Bianca and her partner Bill Calhoun/Luciento, who seem to be much more from the musical tradition rather than opera. Nevertheless, Zoe Rainey demonstrated her vocal virtuosity and great acting ability in “Always true to you in my fashion.” Alan Burkitt also impressed with his tap dancing skills, as well as his excellent singing and acting. These two contrasting characters showed the successful merger of the operatic and musical theatre traditions that have made Kiss Me Kate the success it is. Other notable characters were played by Joseph Shovelton and John Savourin playing two mobsters who find themselves on stage and end up doing a great job in “Brush up your Shakespeare”.
Although Kiss Me Kate may not be an opera – which will disappoint some opera connoisseurs who religiously follow Opera North’s work – it is an excellent piece of musical theatre, with operatic elements that will hopefully encourage some audience members to try a full-bodied opera in the future. The superb Opera North Orchestra under conductor James Holmes did justice to the great Cole Porter score.
There are of course criticisms that could be made. Occasionally the plot is a little clunky and the first act is arguably too long, although that could be said of many operas too. Despite these minor flaws, the production directed by Ed Goggin kept our interest in its fast paced changes, thanks to the work of designer Colin Richmond and the show’s choreographer, David James Hulston.
Above all, the great music superbly played by the orchestra and backed by a fine chorus will keep you happy right to the very end.