15 May 2009
London Oratory School
Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera Society’s (WLOS) production of ”Kiss Me, Kate” recently at the London Oratory School. Thanks also to Dianne Norton for making the ticket arrangements.
A musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew” is about to open in Baltimore. In the show with producer/actor Fred Graham are his former wife, Lilli; Lois, a singer in whom he is interested; and Bill Calhoun, who is Lois’s love interest. The irresponsible Bill informs Lois that he has signed Fred’s name to a $10,000 IOU for gambling debts. She begs him to reform. Fred and Lilli patch up their differences as they reminisce nostalgically about other shows in which they have appeared together. Fred sends a bouquet to Lois, which is delivered in error to Lilli. On stage as Katharine, Lilli discovers that the bouquet was meant for Lois and threatens to leave the show. Her departure is prevented by two gangsters who have come to collect the IOU with Fred’s signature. As the first Act ends she is raging, both in character and reality.
Petruchio (played by Fred Graham) although just married to Katharine, and beginning his tempestuous wedded life, begins to yearn for his life as a single man. Because of a sudden change in gang administration the gangsters tear up the now worthless IOU and Lilli prepares to walk out on the show as Fred muses on his love for her. The gangsters sing the always show-stopping ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’. As the show comes to close, Lilli unexpectedly returns and in Katharine’s words expresses her intention of returning to her husband.
This was a refreshingly good choice of show for Wimbledon LOS. ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ requires some strong lead characters and a robust energetic chorus to back them up fully. I think your ensemble fully achieved this. Cole Porter’s musical score is fantastic and when performed by a superb orchestra, the makings of a great evening are in place. There was nice balance of age groups amongst the ensemble with young and slightly older alike giving their all for the society.
The stage was pleasantly dressed for the show within a show format. Kate’s balcony added authenticity as well as a vehicle for her to launch her weapons. A hard working crew brought furniture and props on with efficiency and anonymity. The technical side of the show went smoothly with a nice bright lighting plot and mastering the awkward split dressing room crossovers. The sound balance was pretty much perfect.
My immediate memories of this production will include a very strong leading lady, the bright, colourful nature of the show’s appearance in harmony with some magnificient costumes. Several modern twists including a presidential reference to Mr Obama added much as did the inclusion of ‘From This Moment On’, building Harrison Howell’s character. I liked the way ‘Another Opening’ came over. The cast grew throughout the number and many individuals got to sing in various lines where they wouldn’t ordinarily have got the chance. As we moved through the production there was some nice groupings but almost inevitably, straight lines began to appear. Additional harmonies toward the end of act one where carried off beautifully. Of course there was the odd foible that I may have had about delivery of lines and ill-fitting hat but they are relatively minor by comparison.
Congratulations to your Creative Team – Director Janet Huckle (assisted by James Whymark) with the concept and the vision. Musical Director Holly Stout conducted a fantastic orchestra whilst keeping the ensemble in tune and harmonizing additional music. Choreographer Katherine Richardson got the men moving very effectively and I particularly liked the stylised dancing of the specialist dancers including a tap routine.
Whilst it was an ensemble production, I have written a few individual notes on the lead principals;
Petruchio/Fred – Seumas Grey – I gather Seumas didn’t have the full rehearsal period on this occasion which only makes his performance all the more pleasing. Well done He has the stature of a leading man but perhaps needs to believe in himself on stage a bit more
Katherine/Lilli – Elizabeth Burton – This was a strong performance from a youthful but extremely foxy Lilli. Elizabeth has a great voice and a stage presence to match. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lilli portrayed with such overt sex appeal – that red basque did it!
Lois/Bianca – Marion Hayter – A strong performance from Marion. Marion was witty and perky at all times playing the ever so slightly ditzy Lois. ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ was particularly good
Bill/Lucentio – Garry Mannion – A new face to me but a suitably slick performance as the smooth operator Bill. Garry possesses a good voice and moves well too
Gremio – James Whymark and Hortensio – Jaco Norval – Both of these characters added humour to their Shakespearean roles as they tried to woo Bianca. Again both sang well and as previously mentioned ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ was a highlight
Harrison Howell – Al Clogston – A number from the film version was added to give Al’s character a little more impact. Nice moves too proves that Al is an all rounder
Stravinsky – John Huckle and Shostakovich – Robin Clifford – Well these two caught me by surprise. A variation on the usual New York style gangsters, we were treated to KGB types instead. Plenty of laughs flowed from these two but I felt ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’ was a little on the bland side
The A4 souvenir programme had lots of fantastic photographs ‘in rehearsal’ and many other very interesting articles. Clearly a lot of time and had gone into its construction and I congratulate you for that.
Once again thank you for inviting me to the London Oratory School and best wishes for your next production, the intriguing ‘Babes in Toyland’.
I look forward to seeing you again if I get a chance and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.
London District 3