Kiss Me, Kate continues at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff until 7 October, then plays dates in Liverpool, Llandudno, Birmingham, Oxford and Southampton.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Strictly speaking, it isn’t at all necessary to ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ to enjoy the infectiously foot-tapping music and lyrics of Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me, Kate, based on the immortal Bard’s comic love story The Taming of the Shrew. Nevertheless, it can help you to follow the twists and turns of a true love that runs anything but smooth.
The nitty gritty of it all is showbiz, with its ups and down, joys and heartbreaks. It takes a strong cast to pull it all together. This co-production from Welsh National Opera and Opera North meets the challenge head-on, resulting in an evening full of wit, dance and show-stopping hit numbers. All great numbers with foot-tapping rhythms and memorable lyrics that remain with you long after the curtain comes down.
It is never easy to stage a play within a play, but director Jo Davies’ production manages to avoid the pitfalls for most of the time, though there is an occasional drop in pace: a palpable drawing of breath, as it were.
For the most part, however, aided and abetted by great sets which reflect the original Broadway production back in 1948, WNO and Opera North manage it smoothly.
Jeni Bern brings her considerable talent as an opera singer to the pivotal role of Lilli, letting loose at full throttle which at times crescendos to the shrieks expected of Shakespeare’s shrewish Katherine, coming into her own in the melodic and wistful ‘So in Love’.
As her rival Lois, Amelia Adams-Pearce, whose background in musical theatre includes Jersey Boys and Spamalot, offers a delightful portrayal as a spritely and sure-footed Bianca.
Mention must also be made of a star performance from Landi Oshinowo in the role of Lilli’s dresser Hattie. The iconic ‘Too Darn Hot’, sung by Hatti and the company, is so full of heat that you can almost feel the burn.
In the role of Fred Graham/Petruchio is the handsome Quirijn de Lang, a versatile actor and accomplished singer with a fine melodic voice. De Lang juggles the dual role adroitly, coming into his own with a swash-buckling Petruchio.
Alan Burkitt, who shows off his dance expertise in a brilliant solo in Act II, plays with evident relish Lois’ boyfriend, the inveterate gambler Bill Calhoun/Lucentio.
Full marks also to the comic duo: John Savournin is a lugubrious second gunman with Joseph Shovelton as his fall guy. Their performance of that wonderful number ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ almost brought the house down. The ensemble also impresses, particularly during the fast tap routines.