KISS ME KATE
Open Air Theatre, Regents Park
23 July - 1 September 1997
Review by Emma Shane © August 1997
Cole Porterís Kiss Me Kate celebrates its half century in 1998, to mark this, here is a review of its most recent professional production.
††††††††††† Since I adore the movie version of Kiss Me Kate, when I first heard that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park were going to do this show, I didnít think I really wanted to see it. I felt that no one could possibly match the outstanding performances of Ann Miller, Howard Keel and above all Kathryn Grayson. Yet it is an excellent score, a lovely story and Iím a fan of Louise Goldís (liking especially her unusual interpretations of Cole Porterís songs). I still had my doubts, wondering if the actress playing Kate had bitten off a meatier role than even she could chew.
††††††††††† However Thou knowest not Goldís effect! I was pleasantly surprised by this production, literally a cross between Fascinating Aida and The Muppet Show! backed up by a superb company of performers.
††††††††††† The Show opens with The Shrew company practising their bows. As Lilli Vanessi, to Andrew C Wadsworthís Fred Graham, Louise Gold is very stiff and aloof, a different persona to anything Iíve seen her do before.
††††††††††† Another Opening Of Another Show finds Issy Van Randwyck, as Lois Lane, mucking in with the ensemble. A minor diversion, added amusement midway through the number, as Louise, pursued by Andrew , strides across the stage.
††††††††††† As Bill Calhoun, Graeme Henderson treated us to some nimble dancing in Why Canít You Behave. Issy sings it well and makes it her own, regardless of the fact that Ann Miller and Kim Criswell have done it just as well.
††††††††††† †Louise and Andrew acted the lead into Wunderbar with far more convincing sincerity than any version I have ever heard, Louise was particularly convincingly casual, both really can act. They enter fully into the spirit of this truly wunderbar song, with the added effect of a lot of Tyrolean thigh-slapping. Though 6ft1", Andrew is half hidden behind, and some what overshadowed by, his 5ft9" co-star, the graceful Louise (wearing a brightly patterned dressing gown that reaches nearly to the ground). Louise sings in her guttural low key, and allows her voice go even deeper as she barks out the stage directions.
††††††††††† The night really was made mysterious by the charismatic Louiseís beautiful rendering of So In Love (later reprised very nicely by Andrew), while her colourful dressing gown swirls about her, in a manner mildly reminiscent of Ginger Rogers dancing The Yam in Carefree.
††††††††††† The New Shakespeare Company, which is just a crazy group that never ceases to troupe, enthusiastically put across a lovely performance of We Open in Venice. Amongst them John Griffiths is worth singling out, for making Baptista into a noticeable character.
††††††††††† †Issy Van Randwyck abandons her mock dreadful Shakespearian acting and shows us what a fine performer she really is in Tom Dick And Harry. The past influences of Hermes Pan and Bob Fosse are evident in the choreography, which the three suitors dance well. I donít know what the late Harold Langís reputedly marvellous dancing was like, but perhaps Graham Henderson gives us some idea; particularly with his excellent dancing in the Rose Dance which followed this number and had a distinctly Bob Fosse touch about it.
††††††††††† Iíve Come To Wives It Wealthily In Padua was expertly handled by Andrew C Wadsworth, showing us what a splendid singer he is, well suited to this sort of role. He is such a perfect person to sing some of Porterís most amusing lyrics, he sang the original lyrics. During Petruchioís speech, which followed this, Graeme Henderson turned out a wonderful comic performance, acting out all of the things Petruchio compares "a womanís tongue" to.
††††††††††† Like Mary Pickford (in the first film version of Taming Of The Shrew), Louise makes her major entrance, as Kate, cracking a whip! (apparently this is in the script!)††
††††††††††† The acid test for any singer playing the title role in Kiss Me Kate is I Hate Men. After that (I am sorry if you like it, but I am afraid that I do not) pathetic Josephine Barstow debacle. Not to mention Patricia Morrisonís original modest efforts, they were nice but lacking in power. Itís wonderful to hear Louise Gold treating us to the delights of her stunning vocal acrobatics in I Hate Men, she never ceases to amaze me! All the encores were contrived but the applause Louise received for this number actually made the encore appear natural! Naturally, Gold passes the acid test with flying colours.
††††††††††† Were Thine That Special Face was very well sung By Andrew; With two added dimensions: Firstly picking a lady from the front row of the audience to caress. Secondly having Louise, wearing her brightly coloured dressing gown over her red "shrew" dress, come and stand in the wings watching this.
††††††††††† As Petruchio, Andrew C Wadsworth finally gets his revenge on the actress who kicked him in the crotch some 11 years ago. The famous on stage fight scene, where he beats her was well handled. The scene finds the pair grappling with each other, until they end up rolling around on the floor!
††††††††††† This is followed with Louise, assisted by Debby Bishop, revealing her form so lithe and slender, by changing costume, on stage, during the backstage argument scene.
††††††††††† We Sing Of Love was well sung by Bianca and the Chorus, carrying hoops of flowers in the style of a Busby Berkley staging.
††††††††††† Louise put her past experience with Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to good use, with some fine operatic singing in the Act 1 Finale, particularly when repeating "never " seventeen times! Some actresses have trouble with operetta type numbers, Louise Gold is not one of them! The act ended surprisingly, with Andrew throwing the shrew over his shoulder, and carrying her off stage!
††††††††††† †Issy was again mucking in with the ensemble in Too Darn Hot, which included fine dancing from the chorus boys. One should single out: Gary Bryden, who played Paul (Petruchioís dresser), he is a very good dancer, while Debby Bishop, is a fine singer and dancer and makes the most of her part. During the course of the show Debby Bishop, Gary Bryden and Paul Thornley spent a lot of their time pushing the sets on and off stage.
††††††††††† There was variation from convention in the burnt meat scene, with Louise trying to wrap the string of sausages round her neck. A nice touch from director Ian Talbot is during Petruchioís speech to Kate, when Louiseís face was well worth watching.
††††††††††† Andrew C Wadsworth makes Petruchioís Thus have I politically begun my reign speech and the song Where is the Life that Late I Led (a fragment of an old lament, reconstructed by Cole Porter) very much his own. One can forget, at least for the time being, that it has been done extremely well by Alfred Drake and Howard Keel.
††††††††††† It is difficult, having heard Kim Criswellís wonderful recording (the highlight of John McGlinnís EMI Classics album) to enjoy somebody elseís version of Always True To You In My Fashion. However Issy Van Randwyck made this number very much her own, and once I got used to it (she is rather different to Kim and some of the lyrics had been changed) I found it very enjoyable. I was particularly pleased that Issy alone was on the stage for this number, that was a big improvement on the film. Issy also sounds far better than Lisa Kirk (Original Bíway cast). Nobody could beat Kim Criswell, but in her own way Issy is comparable. Issy Van Randwyckís performance perhaps sums up the whole company. Wisely, none of them, especially the principles, try to be anyone other than themselves.
††††††††††† Louise acted Lilliís boredom over Fredís description of her life with Harrison Howell well. She was also perfectly convincing when asking Harrison to "Call the FBI"; and never once during Act 2 did she forget Lilli has a sore behind, as a result of Fredís mistreatment of her in the Act1 fight - She winced every single time she sat down! As Harrison Howell, Jonathan Elsom gets a laugh saying "I think I can make this little woman very happy" (Louise is the tallest woman in the cast).
††††††††††† Bianca was pleasantly sung and danced by Graeme Henderson (a fine dancer, and a decent singer) and company, particularly the excellent chorus girls, Rebecca Hartley, Alexandra Sumner and Lucy Quick, along with Debby Bishop.
††††††††††† As the gangsters, Gavin Muir and Rob Edwards came into their own with Brush Up Your Shakespeare. They entirely did this justice. They did it in absolutely traditional style, complete with the two encores, the first of which nearly looked natural.
††††††††††† I am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple is the only Cole Porter song for which he did not write the lyrics, William Shakespeare did, it is a speech from The Taming Of The Shrew. It may be hard to go wrong with this song, even Josephine Barstow sang it decently, but Louise Gold turns it into a thing of real beauty. Her glorious voice, which would indeed be an inspiration to anyone, including a gangster in his work, caught the melody exactly, showing us that though she has a true gift for vocal parody, she does not have to use it.
††††††††††† The finale of Kiss Me Kate, was a super ending to a brilliant show, and followed by the entire company, singing Brush Up Your Shakespeare with great enthusiasm.
††††††††††† Though I have not singled them out Tony Whittle, Oliver Jackson, Simon Penman, Ian Sanders (remember him from The Lost Musicals), and Musical Director Catherine Jayes, are also worthy of praise, for they helped to make this show so very stunning, Why its more than Wunderbar!
††††††††††† For me the absolute highlight of the production is, that darling devil divine, Louise Gold,ís incredible rendition of I Hate Men. She was magnificent. She more than matched Kathryn Graysonís spectacular efforts in the film, which Iíve always adored. I thought Kathryn delivered the lines "If thou should wed a businessman ... the business which he gives his secretary" and "If you espouse an older man ... The Doctors call it rheumatism" exceptionally well, but Louise did it even better! invoking a style only she could pull off. She also came up trumps delivering such lyrics, not in the film as: "Their worth upon this earth I dinna Ken" and "I hate both Cain and Abel though Betty Grable had em". She really did it extremely well! Tankard and tin plates were dispensed with and Louise discarded her whip. Like in The Lost Musicals she did the number without props, and unlike Patricia Morrison (who people were once worried wouldnít be heard beyond the footlights) she didnít need them. As the Gangsterís put it "What a Trouper", "What a Personality" .
††††††††††† For such a role as Kate, involving both operetta and good comic musical comedy numbers, versatile Louise Gold, with her wide-ranging voice, is indeed a priceless prize. The real surprise is that she also brings a lower, stronger tone to the part (originally a Soprano), giving added depth to So In Love and I am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple, both of which she handled with a natural sincerity and simplistic beauty. ††
††††††††††† Ken Tynan coined a phrase, which David Nathan subsequently used to describe Kim Criswell in Annie Get Your Gun, "High Definition Performance, or HDP for short", that sees to sum up Louise Gold in Kiss Me Kate perfectly. I loved the whole show so much I could easily watch it several times. I have never before had the experience of seeing a show that was so wonderful I felt I had to see it more than once!