We joined Manor Musical Theatre Company for their final performance of this classic musical reworking of The Taming of the Shrew and it was great to see the whole company going full-out to make the most of their final show, with fine performances across the board.
For me, Kiss Me, Kate itself is now looking a bit dated and would benefit from a reworking for modern audiences. Originally appearing on Broadway in 1949, Cole Porter’s show perfectly addressed the post-war era of unease and readjustment as gender balances at home and in the work place began to undergo massive change. Against the current backdrop of gender equality, the concept of taming women jars somewhat; although the musical does go further than Shakespeare’s original text in terms of portraying the ‘taming’ of the male characters. Just as directors of contemporary productions of the Shakespeare have toyed with whether the ‘Shrew’ of the title is really Kate or Petruchio, with a little trimming of the score and reworking of libretto Kiss Me Kate could easily be transformed into a show that speaks volumes to contemporary audiences.
Cole Porter’s score is of course crammed full with many of his well-known songs, echoing the changing era of the late 1940s with operatic ballads set against jaunty, jazz numbers and character songs that harked back to the old Music Hall days. Manor’s orchestra, under the expert leadership of Musical Director Peter Bushby, really brought the varied score to life, complimented by a great use of sound by the technical team, who achieved an excellent balance of music and vocals in the tricky acoustic of Sutton Coldfield Town Hall.
There are excellent vocal performances across the board, with the men’s chorus particularly standing out for their tight harmonies. Leading the cast, Susan Bushby (Lilli Vanessi/Kate) and Barry Styles (Fred Graham/Petruchio) handle both the operatic and more charismatic songs deftly; each displaying an impressive range both musically and in terms of their characterisation. As Lois Lane/Bianca, Rebecca Perry gives a near-show stealing performance of ‘Always True To You in My Fashion’ – a particular highlight in her performance which shone throughout the evening and even a mishap with lyrics could not deter from the endearing rendition of ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ from gangsters Lynne Ridge and George Fletcher.
There are strong contributions throughout from Roger Inigo (Paul), Beth Hooper (Hattie), Patrick Stevenson (Bill) and Andy Hooper (Hortensio) as the supporting principal cast, and when they lead the chorus in group scenes they really pull the whole show together.
More than anything the company camaraderie and collective enjoyment of this performance was evident right up to the final curtain and it made us leave the theatre commenting on how being part of such a warm theatrical family is indeed ‘Wunderbar’!
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