It was fantastic to see this fine graduate production take to the stage of the Princess Theatre. It’s a perfect venue for an old-fashioned Broadway book musical such as Kiss Me, Kate, and the young performers from Ballarat Arts Academy looked right at home.
Based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate was Cole Porter’s most successful musical, sweeping the Tony Awards in 1949 and once again in 2000 following a Broadway revival.
Kiss Me, Kate revolves around the notion of ‘a show within a show’: a pair of once-married, now-divorced musical theatre co-stars, Lilli Vannesi and Fred Graham, play the leads in Shrew - a stage musical of the Shakespearian play. Their tempestuous relationship is aided and abetted by various mishaps and an assortment of colourful characters, and is ultimately played out on stage to hilarious results.
The Arts Academy has given the Shakespearean element of this particular production an interesting twist. Shrew has been given a 1920s, cubist makeover, the idea being that this is in keeping with the artistic pretensions of director/leading man, Fred Graham. Costume Designer Alexis George has worked wonders with her use of black and white.
Musical Theatre is a tough gig. It demands all-round talent - you need to be able to sing, act and dance up a storm. The vocal ability of these second and third year students was excellent. The ensemble numbers were powerful and rousing, while the four leads - Claire George, Joshua Piterman, Kat Cusworth and Graham Foote - handled the demands of their roles with proficiency and stamina. Led by musical director Andrew Patterson, the orchestra interpreted Porter’s lush score with great flair, complementing the vocals beautifully.
Choreographer David Wynen has done an admirable job devising effective, challenging routines for a cast that hasn’t, for the most part, had extensive dance training. The impact of these routines will increase as the season goes on, confidence builds, and the performers start to ham it up a little more.
‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’ had all the necessary gusto for an opening number and could have easily passed for a professional performance. As Hattie, Penelope Bruce led this number with dynamism and conviction, and I was disappointed not to see more of her glowing presence throughout the show.
As the flirty Lois Lane, Kat Cusworth really vamped up her role as the show progressed - her superb vocals making ‘Always True to You in my Fashion’ one of the highlights of the show, while Graham Foote was a charismatic, all-round talent as her boyfriend, Bill Calhoun.
Kiss Me, Kate has clearly dated - Porter’s rather ribald double entendres are lost on much of today’s audience - but to ponder over its social relevance is really missing the point. When Lilli Vanessi sings ‘I am Ashamed that Women are so Simple’ at the end of Act II, you just can’t let it get to you. This is classic musical comedy – an important experience for the Arts Academy graduates, and for the audience, a cheeky step back in time to the golden age of Broadway.
University of Ballarat Arts Academy presents
Kiss Me, Kate
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Sam & Bella Spewack
Venue: The Princess Theatre, Spring Street Melbourne
Dates: November 24 – December 3
Times: Wed – Sat @ 8pm; Sun @ 5pm
Tickets: $25 - $39.95
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 or premier.ticketek.com.au