Kiss Me, Kate (review)

ANOTHER opening another show – and another great revival with the smash hit musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Starring Berkhamsted’s Alex Bourne (who helped launch the Waterside Theatre) and the sensationally sexy Hannah Waddingham this lavish retelling of The Bard’s Taming of the Shrew is yet a third blockbuster hit for Chichester Festival Theatre.

Two years ago they delighted audiences with the grisly Sweeney Todd, which is still playing to packed audiences in the West End (I saw Sir Patrick Stewart in the audience recently) and last year they gave everyone a soaking with the vibrant Singin’ In The Rain – another London hit that’s still playing.

Kiss Me, Kate is set to go to The Old Vic this winter for those drama fans unable to make the trip down to West Sussex and it’s a show not to miss.

Trevor Nunn has reinvented the big Hollywood musical for the stage and it razzle dazzles with the best of them.

The story is a show within a show. A company of actors led by their leading man, the charismatic Fred Graham (Bourne) and starring his ex-wife, the fiery Lilli Vanessi, is putting on Shrew The Musical.

And in a comedy of errors Fred is accused of welching on a gambling debt to a mobster, Lilli thinks her husband still loves her (and exacts her revenge when she learns the truth!) and Fred plays fast and loose with the affections of a young hoofer who also has eyes for a fellow dancer.

The back stage rows, between the flirtatious Fred and the wildcat he was once married to, overspill on to the stage. One of the highlights (among so many that it’s difficult to choose) is Lilli’s spewing out of the song “I Hate Men”. It’s done with such bile that it is impossible not to feel sorry for the poor sap.

Claws out Lilli is determined to hurt her errant ex – until she is forced, like the character she plays – into submission.

Helping her, in no uncertain terms, is the great comedy duo of David Burt and Clive Rowe who play two suited and booted henchmen sent to collect a debt. They end up donning hose and doublet to ensure the show goes on and their boss gets his loot.

The pair offer bon mots and wisecracks before succumbing to the lure of greasepaint to belt out the showstopper Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

Holly Dale Spencer adds to the comedy as brainless blonde bimbo dancer Lois Lane who falls for Graham’s patter and dancer Bill Calhoun’s easy charm.

The company turns up the temperature at the start of the second half with Too Darn Hot but ex Tap Dog Adam Garcia (as Calhoun) is under-used and only given a few moments to show off his talent as a dancer (and, boy, can he tap dance).

Waddingham is outstanding both as the fiery redhead, Kate, in the Shrew, and as the femme fatale Lilli while Bourne, playing both Fred and Petruchio, is a natural leading man with a megawatt smile, bags of personality and an outstanding voice.

This is a faultless production that is Wunderbar from beginning to end but it’s a shame the superb orchestra, led by musical director Gareth Valentine, were hidden away and not brought out for the curtain call.

Kiss Me, Kate plays in rep at Chichester until the end of August. It opens in London on November 20 and runs until March2. For information about Chichester contact the box office 01243 781312 or online www.cft.org.uk. For The Old Vic call the box office 0844 871 7628 or go online www.oldvictheatre.com

ANNE COX