Kiss Me, Kate

Cole Porter’s highly imaginative dual play, after Shakespeare, a musical within a musical, Kiss Me Kate, has opened at the Barbican. It received a rapturous reception on press night, with an immediate and exuberant standing ovation and almost two more during the course of the performance as show-stopping numbers were wildly applauded.

Impassioned performances, catchy songs and high-energy dance

Kiss Me Kate premiered in 1948 and won the first Tony Award for Best Musical the following year. The story of the show is rooted in the notorious on-stage/off-stage battle between husband-and-wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne during their 1935 production of The Taming of the Shrew. Future Broadway producer Arnold Saint-Subber observed their wranglings and asked Bella and Samuel Spewack to write the book. Coincidentally, their marriage was also on the rocks. Subsequently, Bella Spewack invited Porter to write the music and lyrics that would turn it into the Broadway show; his only one to run for over a 1000 performances.

That marital dispute provided the structure for a show that would mirror the conflict between the leading characters in the play, and the modern-day tribulations between a divorced couple playing those parts. Hence, all the characters take on two roles:one in real life and one in the travelling production of the Shrew and this production finds actors in every part who excel in their roles to provide an evening of impassioned performances, catchy songs and high-energy dance.

Adrian Dunbar (Fred Graham/Petruchio) makes his musical theatre debut and with his silver-grey hair, suave demeanour and relaxed demeanor he performs with enthusiasm with an almost grinning expression that reveals how much he is joying himself in the roles. His vocals are competent, but not in the same league as other soloists. Opposite him the accomplished soprano and Tony Award winner Stephanie J. Block (Lilli Vanessi/Katherine), making her West End debut, often comically yet sensitively relates the the ups and down of her marriage, but disposes of any subtlety when dealing with romance in her aggressive portrayal of Kate. Nowhere has misandry been more fully and venomously expressed, than in I Hate Men which she performs with relish.

A parallel love story is played out by Charlie Stemp (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio) and Georgina Onuorah (Lois Lane/Bianca). Outstanding throughout, they each have a highspot: Onuorah in her rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion and Stemp with the Company in the breath-taking song and dance routine complete with tap section, Bianca. It’s a shining example of Anthony Van Laast’s remarkable imagination and skill as a choreographer. The Company are also out in force with Jack Butterworth (Paul) in the sultry It’s Too Darn Hot.

No US show of this type would be complete without a couple of gangsters to muddy the waters and Hammed Animashaun and Nigel Lindsay do that with great humour and skill. The double act reaches its peak in their rendition of the musical-hall-style comic number Brush Up Your Shakespeare, which becomes something of a singalong.

It’s not just the stage that’s littered with star performances and there are more than mentioned here. Director Bartlett Sher has excelled in creating an up-to-date and slick show that is stunning both visually and musically. Much of that is also due to the astounding revolve set by Michael Yeargan, the elegant and vivid costumes by designer Catherine Zuber, Donald Holder’s sparkling lighting design, Adam Fisher’s sound design and the musical supervision of Stephen Ridley with orchestration by Don Sebesky. They, along with many others make a brilliant team and ensure the phenomenal end product.

With famous songs such as Another Opening, Another Show, Wunderbar, We Open in Venice, So in Love and Tom, Dick or Harry. Kiss Me Kate is night out not to be missed.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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Barbican Theatre / The Barbican

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★★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Cole Porter’s hit musical starring the multi-award-winning Adrian Dunbar (Ridley, Line of Duty) and Broadway musical superstar and Tony Award-winner Stephanie J. Block (Into The Woods, 9 to 5).

From the Producer of Anything Goes, comes a new production of Kiss Me, Kate. With Cole Porter’s razor-sharp witted lyrics, it’s ‘The ultimate Broadway musical from the golden age’ (Financial Times) and is Broadway musical comedy meets Shakespeare meets Noises Off.

Directed by Bartlett Sher(The King and I, South Pacific and To Kill A Mockingbird) and with a company of over 50 including a full-scale orchestra, Kiss Me, Kate features classic songs including Another Op'nin', Another Show, Brush Up Your Shakespeare and Tom, Dick or Harry. Adrian Dunbar stars as Fred Graham with Tony Award winner Stephanie J. Block making her West End debut as Lilli Vanessi.

Kiss Me, Kate is the original farce and whisks you into a world of backstage chaos and romantic entanglements. It’s the perfect Summer musical for 2024.

__Assisted Performances__

Audio described:Wed 17 Jul, 7.30pm, Touch tour at 5.30–6pmSat 10 Aug, 2.30pm, Touch tour at 12.30–1pm

CaptionedWed 24 Jul, 7.30pmSat 17 Aug, 2.30pm

BSL-interpretedWed 31 Jul, 7.30pmSat 24 Aug, 2.30pm

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