Another ope’nin, another show. That’s how Kiss Me Kate crawls into life, as the opening of the new musical version of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ looms in 1949 Baltimore.
At first, all seems weary and wary – a hard-working cast unsure of how things are going to work out, nervous as they ponder if the audience will appreciate them and their efforts. In the case of Walsall Operatic Society and their production of the Cole Porter Broadway hit, they needn’t worry on that score. Kiss Me Kate is a winner, and the audience at the Lichfield Garrick went out into the rain having been thoroughly entertained, their Shakespeare fully brushed up on!
One of the first things that strikes you is the depth of vocal talent that Walsall Operatic Society possess
The opening number quickly picks up pace as we see the theatre and everyone involved come to life. Actors and stagehands dash to and fro, the fear makes way for a swell of optimism and enthusiasm and we’re on our way. It’s infectious. Propelled forwards to the sound of Musical Director Ian Room’s hugely impressive orchestra, the audience are swept along and invited to see just how stressful putting together a show is. Especially if you’re the leading man and your ex-wife happens to be the leading lady.
Such a situation is enough to leave anyone highly-strung. Add to that the fact that you’re directing and producing the said show, then the last thing you need are two gangsters coming in demanding that you pay up on an IOU from one gamble too far – in a game you weren’t playing.
Confusing? Chuck in the Shakespearian language from the ‘play within the play’ and you have yourself a recipe for a musical that is both fast-paced and frenetic and requires a company that really knows what they’re doing.
Thankfully in the shape of WOS we have a company that rises to the task magnificently. One of the first things that strikes you is the depth of vocal talent that they possess, and in Tom Fletcher as highly-strung director/leading man Fred Graham and Philippa Mills as ex-wife/leading lady Lilli Vanessi they have a pairing that leads the line with exceptional skill.
The harmonies they both shared in ‘Wunderbar’ were a real treat.
Another strong vocal performance came courtesy of Lauren Key as Lois, who managed to be both ditzy and seductive at once. Her romance with the unreliable Bill (Maison Kelley) was hugely enjoyable to watch, and they were clearly having a ball together onstage.
In fact, one of the reasons this show is so successful is the tidal wave of infectious enthusiasm that pours forth from the cast and onto the audience. Director Richard Poynton has brought the best out of everyone involved to create a pacy, slick and energetic show. The comedic elements are well-timed, the space is utilised well and the cast slip seamlessly between Baltimore and Padua (not to mention the 1940s/Shakespearian dialogue).
Sexy and Sultry
Huge credit has to go to the choreography of Charlotte Fletcher, which really hit the spot during ‘Too Darn Hot’ – which was exactly that. Combining sexy and sultry moves that Bob Fosse would have been proud of, this number served to demonstrate just how good this company is. Huge praise to Bea Coleman who made this number her own, and a special mention to David Walter and James Mateo-Salt making their debuts. Slick, strong and thoroughly impressive.
By the time Craig Smith and Carl Banks performed audience favourite ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ the crowd were already thoroughly impressed. Aside from the odd technical issue, such as an unlit chaise longue which, when sat on, would cause performers to disappear – there was very little fault that could be picked with a great show, and to do so would be to make much ado about nothing.
All’s well that ends well, then – and here’s hoping the Lichfield Garrick is nicely full for the remaining performances!
Ross Lowe – Downstage Centre, Thursday 12th March 2015
Lilli / Kate – Phillipa Mills
Fred / Petruchio – Tom Fletcher
Lois / Bianca – Lauren Key
Bill / Lucentio – Maison Kelley
Paul – Bea Coleman
Hattie – Steph Coleman
1st Gangster – Craig Smith
2nd Gangster – Carl Banks
Baptista – Chris Wolverson
Harrison – Simon Docherty
Gremio – David Walters
Hortensio – James Mateo-Salt
Stage Doorman – Craig Griffiths
Director – Richard Poynton
Musical Director – Ian Roome
Choreographer – Charlotte Fletcher