For their 2004 show, the Festival Players returned to Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. “This production had it all” wrote Julie Petrucci in Combinations, praising the “inspirational” pairing of Linda Thomas and Nigel Murfitt in the leading roles, who “stood out like shining beacons.” The production also marked the debut of Liz Milway on costume design – the start of more than a decade of equally inspirational work ensuring the cast looked as good as they sounded.
Director Clive Borrow
Musical Director Brian Thomas
Choreographer Fay Ostler
Lighting Design David McRobb
Sets Albemarle of London
Costume Design Liz Milway
Kiss Me Kate Pictures by Lee Marshall
Festival Players bring Broadway to Cambridge
Reviewed by Julie Petrucci for Combinations, July 2004
Taking its inspiration from Shakespeare, Kiss Me, Kate recounts the backstage and onstage antics of two feuding romantic couples during a touring production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Sparkling with Cole Porter songs — including Another Op’nin’, Another Show, Wunderbar, So in Love, Always True to You in My Fashion, Too Darn Hot,” and the wonderful Brush Up Your Shakespeare .
A play-within-a-play unfolds, where each of the four main cast member’s on-stage performance is complicated by what is happening in their off-stage life. The Company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew is interspersed with the behind-the-scenes traumas that involve, among other things, a couple of hilarious gangsters. Can Fred and Lilli avoid beating the hell out of each other on stage enough to get to the final curtain? Could they possibly be reconciled? Of course, like another of Shakespeare’s plays All’s Well that Ends Well.
Kiss Me, Kate epitomizes musical comedy at its best. The show leaves in all the politically incorrect material just as it was when it appeared on Broadway but that, in today’s politically correct climate, all seemed to add to the humour (well I didn’t seen any feminist protests anyway).
Festival Players, like many amateur musical and drama companies often suffer from lack of men – but not this year – and it was great to see such an excellent male chorus once again. The ladies, as always, did a great job, enhanced by having such good quality backing from the gentlemen. Unfortunately, and unusually, the orchestra was not up to their usual fine standard in places and once or twice let the singers down. Many of the songs are intricate and pretty complicated. Even someone as non-musical as myself can appreciate that it is not always easy for musicians, who also have a day job, to be totally “note perfect”, in the main, however, they did a great job.
Now let’s cut to the chase and talk about performances. What inspiration to pair Linda Thomas (Lilli/Kate) and Nigel Murfitt (Fred/Petruchio) in the leading roles. Both wonderful singers and actors who led from the front, which, I am sure, inspired everyone. Good performances from Suzanne Emerson (Lois Lane/Bianca) and Matt Gregory (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio) although they got slightly overshadowed at times. Warren Clark and Alan Hay were inspired as the two gangsters (doubling as bridesmaids to Kate!) and were in their element with the show-stopping Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
Among others worthy of mention are Simon Merrington (Harry/Baptista), Jan Croft (Hattie) and Dave Smithet and Roger Wood (Bianca’s suitors). However, this is to take nothing away from anyone else. The acting, singing and dancing throughout was excellent, but while the ensemble was marvellous, the two stars Linda Thomas and Nigel Murfitt stood out like shining beacons.
This production had it all, good direction, with some lovely comic touches, from Clive Borrow, nifty choreography from Fay Ostler, good lighting, some swift (if sometimes noisy) scene changes and colourful costumes plus songs to send you home singing. To pinch one of the gangster’s lines this production was “…calculated to please the discerning theatregoer” – and it did.
Cambridge Evening News