Theatre Review: Kiss Me Kate, 1st September 2012, Chichester Festival Theatre

I guess what they say about buses also applies to the theatre – none for ages then three come along at once, except in this case it was two. Ah well, my point is that September started off as a busy month for me as no only did I spot the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Kiss Me Kate earlier in the year and book it, I also spotted that Will Young would be in Cabaret at the Mayflower in Southampton and had to book that for the following week. More about Cabaret later, but we’re here to talk about Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate and the absolutely fantastic Chichester production directed by Trevor Nunn.

I’ve never been to Chichester before, but kick myself for it regularly as recently both Sweeney Todd and Singin’ in the Rain have started life there and have transferred to London. Now I know how easy it is to get there I’m definitely going to keep a closer eye and go there again. The main reason I HAD to see Kiss Me Kate though was because the lovely Mr Adam Garcia was cast as Bill Calhoun – he was the first to be announced and I’ll have to admit that I’d not heard of any of the other cast members before. I’m thrilled to say that they were all stellar performers which made this production such a joy to watch.

If you’re not familiar with the show, the action takes place in a Baltimore theatre where an acting troupe is trying out its production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Fred Graham, the show’s producer, director and star has employed his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi in the lead role of Katherine – her first theatre role in some time after making movies, but at the same time he’s employed current girlfriend Lois Lane to play Bianca, Katherine’s younger sister. Lois herself is not telling Fred the whole truth as she’s using him to become a star, while remaining true (in her fashion) to Bill Calhoun. Throw into the mix a couple of gangsters chasing Fred for Bill’s gambling debt and you’ve got a show within a show!

I’ve seen the movie of Kiss Me Kate and, I have to say, there are moments that I always wind on but I was totally hooked by this fresh and exciting new production. The dance numbers were energetic and had split-second timing; the songs were sung with real conviction and there was always so much to look at on stage.

The sets were simple but innovative, with cloth centrepieces forming the greater part of them – perhaps indicating the shoestring budget of a travelling company, and even though the costumes in the ‘show’ sections were primarily black and white, there was still so much colour throughout the show.

I could talk for ages about Adam Garcia – after all I did see his brilliant performance in On The Town and fell a little bit in love with his Fiyero in Wicked – but I’ll just say again that he is the most amazing dancer and seeing him live is so much better than seeing him on TV. We also bugged him at the stage door afterwards and he was a complete Gent.

I was unfamiliar with the rest of the cast, but am now full of admiration for Hannah Waddingham who was just brilliant as Lilli. Her comic timing was spot on and she sang her demanding songs with ease. I Hate Men was great example. Her pairing with Alex Bourne as Fred Graham was really believable and you’d have to be made of stone to not wish that they’d come good in the end.

We saw the last night at Chichester, but Good News! This production will open at the Old Vic on 20th November and run until March 2013. I’d definitely be tempted to see it again and I can heartily recommend it.

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