Kiss Me, Kate (Prom 21)**** (Royal Albert Hall)

Posted: August 3, 2014 in Music, Theatre

photo-141The annual concert by the John Wilson Orchestra has become a highlight of the Proms Season. The Orchestra’s unique mission is to recreate the authentic sounds of the Golden Age of Broadway and Hollywood, but this is the first occasion on which it has brought a semi-staged version of a single musical to the Proms. In this case, “semi-staged” means a full company of actors/singers/dancers, fully costumed, performing in the area in front of the Orchestra, without a set and with minimal props. Of course, the nature of the Proms and the venue dictate that the emphasis is placed firmly on the music. Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate was last seen in London at the Old Vic in 2012/13 and such is its stature as a musical comedy that further revivals are never likely to be far away. However, conventional theatre productions have their limitations in terms of orchestra size. There are no synthesisers in this version. The leading roles are sung by Ben Graham (Fred/Petruchio), Alexandra Silber (Lili/Kate), Tony Yazbeck (Bill/Lucentio) and Louise Dearman (Lois/Bianca) and all are faultless. James Doherty and Michael Jibson chip in with a suitably droll Brush Up Your Shakespeare, which, as always, stops the show. Dancing, choreographed by Alistair David, is an additional delight, but the biggest problem with this staging is that acting out the scenes in full simply does not suit the vast Albert Hall nor the musical purpose of the performance. Yes, it is beneficial to be able to put the songs into their context, but that might still have been achievable if several spoken scenes which fall flat had been trimmed or, in one case in the second half, cut out altogether.  That said, this evening is all about the glorious sound that fills the Albert Hall and allows us to close our eyes and imagine being in Radio City Music Hall in the 1940s. We may see versions of Kiss Me, Kate that are better than this, but it is very unlikely that we will ever hear one that is better.

Performance date: 2 August 2014

(The performance was recorded by BBC television for transmission in December)

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