Kiss Me, Kate is an iconic film and musical that I have never seen on stage. When we saw that Manor Musical Theatre Company were performing Cole Porter’s classic at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, we seized the opportunity to catch the show.
Kiss Me, Kate was written by Bella Spewack and Sam Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The original Broadway production of Kiss Me, Kate opened in 1948, ran for 1077 performances and had Tony Award wins including best musical and score in 1949. It is set for a Broadway return in 2019 and Opera North are taking the show to the London Coliseum in June. Many people will also remember the musical from its 1953 film starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller.
The story is a classic ‘show within a show’ and is set both on and off-stage during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The leading actor-director Fred Graham co-stars with his leading lady (and ex-wife) Lilli Vanessi. Their stormy relationship creates tension and calamity as Fred tries to make sure that the show goes on. Throw in a couple of gangsters and new love interests and you have a recipe for comedy gold.
This production by Manor Musical Theatre Company was directed by Pam and James Garrington with musical direction by Peter Bushby and choreography by Maggie Roberts.
The company have been producing high quality musical productions for many years. Formed in 1952 as Manor Operatic Society, the company only recently changed its name to Manor Musical Theatre Company in June 2015. With previous shows such as South Pacific (2017) and Calamity Jane (2016) already in their repertoire, I had high hopes for their performance of Kiss Me Kate.
Susan Bushby, who played Lilli Vanessi/Katharine, was a real shimmering star. She commanded the stage and made us laugh along with her comedic performance. She has a beautiful soprano voice delivering her solos with effortless grace. Fred Graham/ Petruchio played by Barry Styles was a fantastic leading man and their chemistry together really stood out in all their scenes and songs. My particular favourite duet was Wunderbar, where their voices complimented each others perfectly.
The company ensemble and dancers were wonderful as they delivered the charismatic choreography of Maggie Roberts, with energy and spirit. I particularly enjoyed Another Op’nin’, Another Show and Too Darn Hot where we see Roger Inigo as Paul lead the number with great character and style.
Rebecca Perry as Lois Lane/Bianca had wonderful stage presence throughout. Beth Hooper as Hattie and Andy Hooper as Hortensio shone with their natural acting abilities.
I have to mention George Fletcher and Lynne Ridge as the gangsters. They were a real highlight of the show for us and had us laughing every time they were in a scene. They both have such natural comedic ability (fantastic New York gangster accents), and they create such a spark when together on stage. We would have happily had Brush up your Shakespeare continue on and on just to keep them both performing together.
This company has infectious energy and you can really tell that they are having a great time on stage. It is so refreshing to see a company of all ages work together as a team and have a good time delivering a high quality show. The entire company are talented and they all offer different skills that enhanced the production. There wasn’t one smile from this company that didn’t leap off the stage and make you smile along with them. The professional attitude of the company meant that even opening night mic glitches couldn’t hinder the production.
With wonderful direction, fabulous costumes and an extremely talented orchestra, Manor Musical Theatre Company are a breath of fresh air in the world of amateur dramatics.
Theatretastic rating 4/5:
We say: “A talented company that delivers this hilarious production of Kiss me, Kate with their infectious energy and terrific stage presence.”