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Kiss Me, Kate starring Kelli O’Hara – review at Studio 54, New York – ‘the leads sparkle’

Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase in Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus

Scott Ellis’ revival of the Cole Porter musical unites the effervescent Kelli O’Hara with the rakish Will Chase for a production that is stronger on romantic longing than it is on musical comedy. While the leads sparkle and Ellis’s production showcases the jazzy score, it’s an otherwise sedate affair.

The on- and off-stage squabbling of actor exes Fred Graham (Chase) and Lilli Vanessi (O’Hara) begins to blur with the characters they’re playing in The Taming of the Shrew. The fact that Fred has been flirting with his younger co-star fuels Lilli’s rage, and by extension, Kate’s kicks to Petruchio’s derriere.

O’Hara is suitably steely and Chase ridiculously smug. Both their voices are perfectly calibrated and their timing strong. But, when the focus shifts away from the leads, the production sags. Not every cast member can match their comic panache.

The sizzling Too Darn Hot, led by a charismatic James T Lane, remains a showstopper, full of pinwheeling, leaps, and fluid moves.

Given its connection with Shakespeare’s Shrew and its period sexism, it’s a delicate time to revive this musical. Composer and lyricist Amanda Green has made adjustments to the lyrics to address this. Changing the title and lyrics of I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple to People Are So Simple shifts Kate’s take on wifely submission, so that all stubborn hearts are missing out on love – while retaining the Shakespeare.

Throughout the show, O’Hara’s Lilli is presented as a worthy verbal sparring-partner to Chase’s Fred, and, with a smart, small gesture, they leave together as equals.

The King and I star Kelli O’Hara: ‘Doing work that feels like it has a message is very satisfying’

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Cole Porter's troublesome classic given new life in an enjoyable but sometimes tepid revival