Kiss Me, Kate continues at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris until 12 February.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Parisians are being given just ten chances to catch the only Cole Porter musical that ran more than a thousand performances on Broadway (and won a 1949 Tony) and now that’s down to nine after a sumptuous opening night and the most-lavishly-costumed and best choreographed revival ever staged.
Of course, we know the Chatelet enjoys government support that would turn West End theatres green with envy but it’s money spent on the right cause.
Last year An American in Paris opened there before triumphing on Broadway, Singin’ in the Rain was staged twice in a year, and next month the rarely-seen Passion becomes their fifth venture into Sondheim, and that’s not counting West Side Story.
All in English with French surtitles (after all how would you capture the true wit of Porter’s or Sondheim’s lyrics under somebody else’s interpretation of them?), these are all productions out of the top drawer and the classic Kiss Me, Kate is no exception.
From the moment the more-than-able David Charles Abell and the 40-piece Paris Chamber Orchestra strike up ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’ we are transported from the banks of the Seine to the Ford Theater in Baltimore where a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is being primed for a Broadway transfer.
Sam and Bella Spewack’s story centres on the on and off-stage conflicts of director/leading man Fred Graham and his fiery ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, which, of course, all ends happily ever after, with many laughs, a seriously painful spanking (which would be rather frowned upon if written today) and rattling good songs along the way.
There’s a secondary romance between two other cast members, Lois Lane and her hooked-on-gambling boyfriend Bill Calhoun, who recklessly signs his boss’ name on a hefty IOU, a move that sees two mobsters invade the star’s dressing room and demand the immediate return of ‘his’ losses.
As Calhoun, Top Hat star Alan Burkitt lays claim to being the greatest tap dancer that ever lived with a stunning routine that has Parisians open-mouthed with amazement and it’s no surprise he claims the biggest applause of the night.
Chatelet regular Christine Buffle, who plays Lilli, is one of director Lee Blakeley’s go-to performers – she was in Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods and The King And I – but this Kate and her ‘I Hate Men’ is the best we have heard from the Anglo-Swiss soprano.
Buffle also does ‘So in Love’ quite wonderfully, and in American bass-baritone David Pittsinger’s Fred she has a fine-voiced foil and one who additionally displays rich comic timing in his Act II number about the safe-but-utterly-boring millionaire she’s on the point of marrying.
Francesca Jackson, another Chatelet fixture, has the less rewarding role of Lois but makes the most of her big number ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’.
Martyn Ellis and Daniel Robinson are a comic double act playing the gangsters with mock-sinister flair – the full house absolutely lapped up their ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ – while there was some quite sensational dancing, not least from Fela Lufadeju and Thierry Picaut.
About the stunning costumes (Brigitte Reiffenstuel), complex sets (Charles Edwards) and choreography (Nick Winston) there isn’t space to saying anything more than ‘Wow!!!’ And Chatelet regular Blakeley’s direction is as sure-footed as ever.
Porter would have loved it. And with two matinees this weekend and a Eurostar return for under £70, Brits can do it in a day. Go on, you know you want to!
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