Classic musicals are in the midst of somewhat of a revival, with Top Hat and Singin’ In The Rain still going strong in the West End and now, down the road in Waterloo, Kiss Me, Kate is set to jazz hand and high kick the competition out of the way with a production that is as slick as it is entertaining.
Directed by Trevor Nunn, it’s impossible to spot a weak link in the hugely talented ensemble who, from the opening bars of Another Op’nin, give a high-octane performance which balances the farce of Cole Porter’s comedy musical and its technical difficulty with finesse, offering everything you’d expect from a classic, plus a healthy dose of silliness too.
Hannah Waddingham and Alex Bourne star as the on again, off again pair of leading actors in a low budget musical version of The Taming Of The Shrew. On stage, it’s as deliciously dreadful as it sounds. Off stage the drama is really heating up as the pair flip quicker than that famous dolphin from on again to off again in a series of unfortunate events which leaves Waddingham’s Lilli Vanessi less than happy and suddenly not so amiable to follow the script.
While Nunn’s colourful production is truly an ensemble piece, Waddingham can’t help but steal the show looking every inch the Hollywood icon as Lilli. But while she may make her stage entrance amongst the floral-clad wannabe Broadway showgirls as a ready-made star, looking as intimidating as Cruella De Vil and shining like a diamond against the shabby peeling wallpaper of her dressing room, she quickly unravels, losing all decorum and grace in exchange for scrapping and stomping, becoming more like her bawdy, burping stage counterpart Katherine by the second.
Utterly at ease on stage, Waddingham draws every drop of comedy from Porter’s witty, puntastic songs and Sam and Bella Spewack’s razor sharp script, which loses nothing in translation more than 50 years later; singing about Dick will surely still be funny in yet another 50 years, let’s be honest.
But an ensemble piece it is and her fellow cast members are not left in her wake, instead bringing the show to life with dancing as sharp as the company’s enviable cheek bones and a scattering of comic performances that bring the house down. While Bourne delivers his comedy straight as the fiery and a tad pretentious Fred Graham, the slightest glint of a mad man in his eye as he spars with Lilli and weathers the storm with little more success, Holly Dale Spencer’s performance is rather less subtle as the dim but sneaky Lois Lane, and rightly so; proving there is an art in making acting look bad. With too much blush and a wide-eyed manic look that would suggest a thyroid problem if it weren’t partnered with so much zeal, her double act with Adam Garcia’s laid back Bill Calhoun adds a youthful, naughty edge to the production as they question why is it exactly that neither of them can behave.
With a sassy maid and over the top dresser, two gangsters with a similar amount of brain cells to rub together between them and a hotbed of divorces, proposals, romances and affairs, there is never a dull moment in Kiss Me, Kate. At the end of the day, it’s truly all just Too Darn Hot.