As a sucker for a classic musical, I was very curious to see what Opera North would make of the Cole Porter classic. ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ is a typical tale of mistaken identity, a will they/wont they love story, a bit of swindling and a bunch of likeable characters all interwoven with an appealing collection of songs. ★★★★★

Porter’s tale stages a play within a play, telling the story of Fred Graham, an actor and director who casts his ex-wife as his co-star; and finds himself in hot water when one of his other leading men signs off a gambling debt in his name. He tries desperately to keep his musical production of The Taming Of The Shrew on track, as a couple of inept gangsters show up to collect the debt and Grahams relationship with his ex-wife sways between love and hate. But as everything falls apart and the backstage bickering starts to mirror the story on stage, Graham does everything he can in ensuring that the show must go on.
The songs from Kiss Me, Kate are some of Porter’s most sterling work, with an overarching jazzy vibe which made the musical numbers delightfully catchy. “Why Can’t You Behave”; “Tom, Dick or Harry” and “Too Darn Hot” were all proper toe tappers, and Tiffany Graves multiple reprises of “Always True To You In My Fashion” were simply glorious.
Opera North have gathered a great company for this show, which draws from a variety of disciplines to produce a collective cast of people who not only specialise, but excel in their field. The classically trained opera singers blended absolutely seamlessly with the musical theatre actors and the dancers. The collective sound and sheer power of the ensemble was stunning. The cast combined to make the production one where each individual element was performed by those with pure strength in their performances and was all the better for it. Quirijn De Lang is vocally strong and charismatic as Graham, whilst Jeni Bern proves an equally impressive sparring partner, and Tiffany Graves and Ashley Day both playfully bounce off each other quite happily.
But on top of that, the production was top notch, with a beautifully designed set, which was detailed and ingeniously versatile; showing what was happening on stage, in the wings and backstage on the twirl of a backdrop. The costumes were sumptuous, being full of sharp suits and flapper dresses behind the scenes; and lavish, detailed period costumes on stage. Jo Davis directs the show with a flair which mirrors the quality of the presentation and the whole thing oozes class. Add into that a cracking, brass filled performance from the orchestra, conducted by David Charles Abell, and you have an outstanding production which wouldn’t be out of place on any West End stage.

The show looks and sounds superb and there are not many productions that have such a great show stopping numbers at the start of each act. The script glistens with wit and charm which is reflected in the performances and the whole thing is professionally polished to within an inch of its life. Don’t be put off by thinking this is traditional opera. It’s not. ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ is musical theatre as it should be performed.

Kiss Me, Kate is part of Opera North’s Autumn programme, which also includes The Barber Of Sevilleand Jenufa. These shows can be seen on various dates at Leeds Grand Theatre until 31st October 2015, before visiting The Theatre Royal in Newcastle (3 – 7 November 2015), The Lowry, Salford Keys, Manchester (10th – 14th November 2015) and Nottingham Theatre Royal (17th – 21st November 2015). For tickets and further details, visit www.operanorth.co.uk

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by Paul Szabo | @IAmScubamonkey

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