The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Vic Theatre Winter 2012-2013
A classic Broadway musical in a very nice new production – if various bits of it could be done better, still far more works than doesn't, making for an enjoyable Good Night Out.
The premise of Sam and Bella Spewack's book is simplicity itself – a divorced acting couple are appearing in The Taming Of The Shrew, their backstage squabbling and underlying love mirroring what's going on onstage.
The show revitalised Cole Porter's waning career in 1948 as he produced evergreens like Another Op'nin Another Show, Too Darn Hot, So In Love and From This Moment On, and of course loads of his patented witty lyrics.
All you really need is two attractive stars who can be both romantic and comic, several supporting comic performers, peppy direction and good choreography, and you can just stay out of the show's way and let it work. Trevor Nunn's production has much of that, stumbling a bit only in some of the secondary roles and in Stephen Mear's choreography.
Alex Bourne is appropriately studly as Fred/Petruchio, with a strong baritone and the winning ability to send himself up without losing too much dignity. Hannah Waddingham strides through the role of Lilli/Kate with absolute authority, effortless sexiness and an extraordinary voice.
(I actually saw this show twice, because Waddingham was ill the first night. I can report that her understudy Carolyn Maitland is excellent. But you are always aware of Maitland working hard at being sparkling, while Waddingham makes it all look so easy.)
Things slip a bit on the second level. Holly Dale Spencer has clearly been directed to twinkle relentlessly, and after a while those eyes and teeth just become exhausting. (We get the point – Lois is a dumb blonde – you can relax.)
Adam Garcia is all-but-invisible as Bill until he finally gets a decent dance number in the middle of Act Two, and Clive Rowe is wasted even more as the dumber of the two gangsters trying to collect a gambling debt. (David Burt as the more talkative one has a touch of the understudy's problem – you can see him working hard at a character he doesn't seem too comfortable with.)
Trevor Nunn tries to keep things moving, but too many scenes end with an anticlimax and an awkward pause for the scene change. And Stephen Mear's dances are never more than just all right. Too Darn Hot, despite the hard work of Jason Pennycooke, never really catches fire, and the Adam Garcia-led Bianca really comes alive only because Mear employs the musical theatre's ultimate weapon, a stage full of people tap dancing.
This is a show that makes very few demands on you – you can just sit back and enjoy it. It's my job to notice places where it could have been even more enjoyable, but you needn't let that interfere with your fun.
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