Kiss Me, Kate

Kiss Me, Kate
Music & Lyrics: Cole Porter. Book: Sam & Bella Spewack. Director: Patrick Hill. Musical Director: Trevor Henley. Choreographer: Denique Adlam. Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Victoria. Alexander Theatre, Melbourne. May 2 - 5, 2024.

Kiss Me, Kate, the musical, is inspired by the real-life drama of actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. It premiered in 1948 as Cole Porter’s response to integrated musicals, such as Oklahoma! The original Broadway production ran for over 1,000 performances and won the first Tony Award for Best Musical. In a manner reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan, the play’s structure features a cliffhanger in Act One followed by a rapid resolution of the storyline in Act Two, aligning perfectly with the theatrical style favored by this company. It is evident that Cole Porter drew inspiration from Gilbert’s intricate rhyme schemes and satirical lyrics. Kiss Me, Kate features a play within a play that presents excerpts from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. This charming comedy delights audiences with its witty dialogue and memorable songs, offering warmth, humour, and entertainment value.

In his first venture as a Director with GSOV, Patrick Hill delivers an electrifying and captivating performance showcasing 41 talented on stage actors and 22 skilled musicians. Hill's eye-popping set and lighting designs, help to establish two unique atmospheres. The backstage area of a 1940's Baltimore theatre (including dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces) and scenes from The Taming of the Shrew (featuring a vibrant painted backdrop depicting Padua, a bustling marketplace, and the exterior of a house). Immersive sound effects crafted by Jamie Tampion and Deana Jacobs enhance the audience’s experience, drawing them deeper into the on-stage events. The costumes, coordinated by Bonnie Hodge, include original pieces designed and created by Sue Halls (Petruchio's costume), Robyn Pidcock (Kate's wedding dress) and Matt Dunne (Lilli and Lois's wigs). The attire matches the eras depicted, with both the 1940s and Shakespearian style clothing being meticulously researched to suit the characters and scenes perfectly. 

The exceptional expertise of Musical Director Trevor Henley (who boasts nearly five decades of experience collaborating with GSOV), shines through in the remarkable performance delivered by the talented 22-piece orchestra. The complexity of the score, encompassing a diverse range of musical styles, coupled with challenging solos for each section, underscores the immense skill and dedication required to execute such a demanding piece. The level of playing was comparable at times to a professional recording. Congratulations to all of the orchestra! Denique Adlam’s choreography was innovative, enthralling, well-suited to the scenes, and effectively showcased the strengths of each performer. Managing a dance-heavy production like this presents a significant challenge for any choreographer, particularly given the two distinct eras being portrayed. 

I was completely engrossed and mesmerized by the performances of Ian Woolford (Fred Graham, Petruchio), Lauren Lee Innis-Youren (Lilli Vanessi, Katherine), and Madeleine Magetti (Lois Lane, Bianca). I believe they all have the potential to deliver outstanding performances in these roles if they were to take the Broadway stage tomorrow. It's like these roles were tailor-made just for them. Woolford effortlessly radiates charm, possesses a powerful and emotionally resonant singing voice (highlighted in his touching performance of 'So In Love') and shares exceptional chemistry with Innis-Youren (particularly during their duet of 'Wunderbar'). Lauren and Madeleine both sing with angelic grace and precision, and showcase a profound understanding of every acting movement, due to their backgrounds in dance. Innis-Youren’s rendition of ‘I Hate Men’ and ‘I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple’ showcase the versatility and depth of her voice, while Magetti’s performance of ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ and ‘Always True to You (In My Fashion)’ highlight her exceptional talent for musical comedy. Michael Capon (or should I say Al Capone) and Lydia Klimek deliver brilliant performances with their witty humor and cool depiction of the amiable gangsters. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room due to their deadpan (but thoroughly humorous) performance of 'Brush Up Your Shakespeare'. Jarrod Ferguson (Bill Calhoun, Lucentio) showcased his charming and youthful persona with a delightful performance of ‘Bianca’ and delivered an impeccable performance both in vocals and dance during ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’. Other notable performers: Philip Liberatore (General Harrison Howell), Stephen Headey (Harry Trevor, Baptista), Susan Hurley (Hattie), Alyssa Sorgiovanni (Paula), Anna Castle (Rae) and Hannah Sleeth (Pops). Two standout moments of the night for me were the captivating burlesque fan dancers in 'Were Thine That Special Face' and 'Always True to You (In My Fashion)', as well as the impressive singing and dancing displayed by Holly Haines (Gremio) and Melissa Hill (Hortensio) in the 'Tom, Dick or Harry' number. 

GSOV is to be congratulated on 'Another Op'nin' of Another Show.'  This show features a highly skilled ensemble of dancers and vocalists, comprising both seasoned performers and a multitude of fresh talents making their debut with GSOV.  

What 'bright shining stars' shine in this production that is truly 'Wunderbar!'

Jonathan Cox

Photos: Robin Halls

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