Would you see Shakespeare sung as a musical?
We’ve seen musicals based on Shakespeare’s masterpieces like West Side Story, which is a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, or the Lion King, which is animated movie version of Hamlet. Although many others have been inspired by Shakespeare it is hard to imagine Shakespeare language sung in a musical, but it could made comedies funnier and turn tragedies into comedies.
Coliseum opened in 1904 as the largest theatre in London and presented variety of entertainment. In the 1910s and 1920s it was also used as a musical hall and even hosted a cricket match between Middlesex and Surrey. In the 1930s the Coliseum presented musical comedies and pantomime. During the Second World War, the Coliseum served as a canteen for Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens. After 1945 the theatre hosted American musicals. In 1961 the Coliseum was turned into a cinema for seven years. In 1968, the theatre became the home of Sadler’s Wells Opera that later became English National Opera (ENO). As well as being the home of ENO, the Coliseum continues to this day with many national and international dance companies performing at the theatre during the breaks between ENO productions.
Play starts with a rehearsal of the musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, opening the same evening. Rehearsal ends with the lead actress, Lilli Vanessi, playing Katherine, calling the director and his ex-husband, Fred Graham, who is playing Petruchio, “a bastard” and walking off stage. The grand opening day is also the anniversary of their divorce. Fred’s assistant delivers flowers and a letter sent by Fred to Lilli by mistake, but Lilli accepts flowers as a sign of apology and agrees to perform that night carrying with her the letter without reading it. Flowers and the letter were addressed to young actress Lois Lane, playing Bianca in the production. Lois’ boyfriend is also in the company, playing Lucentio, but he missed the rehearsal as he was drinking and gambling. He signed $10,000 IOU under Fred Graham’s name. Just before the performance 2 mobsters come into the theatre looking for Fred Graham. Fred denies signing IOU and walks on stage to open the premiere. The Taming of the Shrew goes as per script up until the moment Lilli gets a chance to read the letter addressed to Lois instead of her and gets even more ill-tempered than Katherine, beating Fred on the stage. During the intermission Lilli calls her fiancee, who works in Washington DC and asks him to come and help her get out of the theatre as soon as possible. Meanwhile Fred tells the mobsters that he remembered signing the IOU but he will not be able to pay $10,000 unless Lilli stays to play Katherine. So the mobsters go on stage dressed as Shakespearean pages and force Lilli to perform threatening with their guns. During the second act the mobsters discover that their boss has been killed, so the IOU is no longer valid. With no one threatening her life any more, Lilli decides to leave and Fred is trying to convince her to stay, but she walks out of the door. As the final scene culminates and the company is waiting for Lilli to enter for her final act as Katherine, Fred stares at the floor as he knows Lilli is not coming, but to everyone’s surprise she appears on stage to close the show.
Kiss me, Kate was written by Samuel and Bella Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. It had pre-Broadway showing at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia in 1948, and transferred to Broadway few weeks later on December 30, 1948. Broadway revival is planned for 2019. Meanwhile, Coliseum hosts limited West End run.
Director: Jo Davies, Ed Goggin
Producers: Opera North
Bought my ticket from London Coliseum website. £21.5 for for a side seat in the back row of the dress circle. Though the view on stage was good, it felt a bit too far from all the action due to the size of the Coliseum. From that distance it’s hard to see faces and any expression, so if you enjoy observing the details during the performance try getting a seat in the front rows of the stalls.
Running time is 2 hours 45 minutes
The Theatre Rat