Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Birthmonth Day Twenty-Four: Kiss Me Kate

Seen here, with Jeff.
Not since two days ago have I got so excited about something…

So back when I worked at The Theatre, one of our regular amateur groups was South Downe Musical Society.

I first saw them when they performed Oliver! (South Downe Musical Society/7th-11th November 2006) and I wasn’t hugely impressed.  I had now seen the stage show performed by two different amateur groups and since I didn’t like it either time, I figured it just wasn’t a very good show.  But when I finally saw the film I realised it is one of the best musicals ever, so have I just not seen if performed well on stage or does the film have some magical extra element (possibly the extra scenes make the plot a lot more coherent)?  Anyway, this version wasn’t very interesting, except for the guy playing Mr Bumble.  I thought his scenes were electric, but otherwise it didn’t catch The Attention.

Next time they came to The Theatre it was with Kiss Me Kate (music & lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Bella & Samuel Spewack/South Downe Musical Society/15th-19th May 2007)

I wasn’t working for the first performance, so when I came in for the rest of the run I was told by a colleague that this show wasn’t very good and I looked at a week of ushering a run that wasn’t interesting.  They lied to me.  I was rapt by this show.  It was giddyingly funny and I stood at the back of the stalls, right in the middle, night after night, unable to take The Eyes off of the stage. 

I loved it.  It didn’t get old.  Jane Pegler was wonderful as Lilli Vanessi (Katharine) and Paul Tully was hilarious as General Howell but the absolute best part of it was Frederick Graham (Petruchio) who was played by a guy called Kevin Redfern (and when I looked through the programme, I realised he was the Mr Bumble who had so impressed me).  Without doubt, Redfern’s performance was one of the greatest performances I had ever seen on a stage.  I missed the show like crazy when it finished and we never got anything that good again.  (NB: do not bother watching the film—it is nothing like the stage show and damn awful).

But I eagerly looked forward to their next show.  Next they were back with Oklahoma! (music by Richard Rodgers, book & lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on Lynn Riggs' "Green Grow the Lilacs"/South Downe Musical Society/6th-10th November 2007)

This time Kevin Redfern was Jud Fry.  The show was good but not really my kind of show.  But when Jud sings his solo song ‘Lonely Room’… this was the cue for the ushers to leave the auditorium and get the ice creams ready because it was nearly the interval.  But we couldn’t move.  Redfern’s rendition of the song was mesmerising.  It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in The Life and I was not going to miss it for some lousy ice creams. 

That was the last I saw of Redfern while I worked at the theatre.  Two of the greatest stage performances I had ever seen in The Life and that was that. 

None of the shows South Downe did after that caught The Attention, though partly that is because I had become a manager and wasn’t able to stare at shows so much.

Later on, when I no longer worked at The Theatre (although I did briefly work for them again after this, so I generally forget I stopped for a couple of months there), I saw South Downe were doing 42nd Street.  I was mildly interested in seeing this show.  I was a lot more interested in the fact that Portsmouth Players were doing Anything Goes around the same time, but I had heard the soundtracks to both these shows at the same time, so it seemed natural to go see them both.  I did have one small thought in the back of The Mind somewhere from when I first heard the 42nd Street soundtrack, which was that Kevin Redfern would be really good at singing Lullaby Of Broadway, but that’s too much to hope for, right?

42nd Street (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes/South Downe Musical Society/Kings Theatre/7th November 2009)

When the show started I hoped Redfern would be in this production.  I spent a painful first scene trying to make out the actors because I was about a million miles away in the Upper Circle, but then I got The Wish.  Kevin Redfern was director Julian Marsh.  You know who Julian is?  The character who sings Lullaby Of Broadway!

Anyway, Kevin Redfern’s performance was powerful and spellbinding.  The bit with the kiss – that still resonates in The Memory now. 

Fred Graham, Jud Fry, Julian Marsh - these are performances that will live with me forever.  He might be an amateur actor, but Redfern is without doubt in the top three greatest stage performers I have ever seen live (bested only by Cory English as Max Bialystock in The Producers and Philip Quast as Georges in La Cage Aux Folles) and he has an absolutely beautiful singing voice.

Dammit, Kevin Redfern is awesome.

What are your top five favourite stage performances?


  1. It took me a show or two to warm to Kiss Me Kate. Possibly the cloud of disappointed ushers put me off - or maybe I just didn't notice how funny it was. I got it eventually. And yes, Kevin Redfern was, and is, great. Oklahoma! is an underwhelming show, but he made it a heck of a lot better. The poor lonely psycho!

    1. The Lilli-Fred dynamic in Kiss Me Kate is very interesting and hard to get right, I'd imagine. I always found it a shame afterwards that two such talented actors as Pegler and Redfern were somewhat limited in role choice. Maybe that's just because I wanted to keep watching Kiss Me Kate over and over. Shame the film sucks.


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