Left – Cheryl Barker
‘Brush up your Shakespeare – start quoting him now’ …sang the dedicated cast in Kiss Me Kate after Bryan Probets and Shaun Brown, in gangster mode delivered this number in a charming and deadpan manner. Probets, brilliant in this supportive role, is a show stealer in this ambitious, do- or - die production directed by Kris Stewart.
It was a show of extremes. There’s a people explosion on stage for starters, a large orchestra faced stage left and covered the width of the stage, a kind of over-sized instrumental ship with Guy Noble the able, all rounder conductor awkwardly positioned at the stage’s edge. And the cast has everyone from apprentice music theatre students from the Conservatorium to the much-feted veterans Cheryl Barker and Peter Coleman-Wright, the ‘Posh and Beck’ of Australia’s opera scene. The latter contributed gravitas but the juxtaposition of high opera and the twang and belt of music theatre are uneasy bedfellows.
On stage it’s a tough squeeze. And yet, Director Kris Stewart worked magic by planting the cast in the midst of, in between, behind the orchestra or in front and Josh Mackintosh’ costumes of the 1940’s costumes had flair, lovely detail and authentic hairstyles to match.
But, back to Shakespeare. Kiss Me Kate the musical was inspired by the Bard’s ‘The Taming of The Shrew’ and was written by Samuel and Bell Spewack with lyrics and music by Cole Porter, the song-writing wizard of 20th century America.
Supposedly, Porter wrote this to counter ‘Oklahoma,’ Rodgers and Hammerstein’s towering success and it contains many of Porter’s hits. ‘It’s Too Darn Hot,’ ‘So-In-Love’ and ‘Wunderbar’ are but a few and then of course there’s the classic, ‘I Hate Men’ Lilli Vanessi’s signature song.
It’s one of those story within a story plots which charts the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ as well as the frisson on-and-off stage between Fred Graham, sung by Coleman-Wright and Lilli Vanessi played by Barker. This fraught couple’s squabbles shimmer alongside the ups and downs of another vexed romance between Lois Lane who plays Bianca and her gambler boyfriend, Bill sung by Jason Barry-Smith. The latter contributes a heartfelt, stage-smart savvy and Lane sung by Naomi Price, is all flirt and minx and looks the part with her flouncing curls. Price’s ‘Why Can’t You Behave’ and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’ were among the show’s stand-outs. Paul Bishop communicated the hapless suitor Harrison Howell with panache.
There were fabulous moments. Choreographer Christopher Horsey’s tap dance interludes had genuine toe-tapping appeal and the flurries of stagehands bustling along the stage front carrying an arsenal of props and equipment recalled Hollywood’s mid-twentieth films admirably if repetitively. Porter’s lyrics were not always clear and the jumbled, visual confusion on stage with ineffective economy lighting clouded the theatrical arc. The sum of this show’s parts were much better than the whole.
Opera Queensland presents
Kiss Me, Kate
lyrics and music Cole Porter | book Samuel and Bell Spewack
Directed by Kris Stewart
Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC
Date: 12 November 2016
Tickets: $25 – $110
Gillian is the author of Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch.