Kiss Me Kate: A sexy, sassy, sultry, joyous production. Wunderbar!


Fred Graham (director and Star): “Come on Harry, let’s do your lines”

Harry Trevor (playing Baptista): “I’m good, I got the gist of them”

Fred “This is Shakespeare. People do not come to a Shakespeare play to get the gist”

Final rehearsals for the evening’s production of  Taming of the Shrew


Adrian Dunbar Fred Graham / Petruchio. (Photo: Johan Persson)

To be honest, I had some trepidation about this revival of the much-loved Cole Porter classic. A few people whose theatrical opinions I generally rate, had seen earlier iterations of this production and were far from complimentary. Actually, they were downright dismissive.

How wrong they were! This is an absolute gem of a show. This is musical comedy at its most playful, witty, and delightfully convoluted.

Set in 1948 the story centres around a theatre company touring the US with a musical production of The Taming of The Shrew. It’s produced, directed and stars Fred Graham (Adrian Dunbar) and his leading lady who happens to be his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Stephanie J Block) . Their relationship is, understandably, fractious but this is compounded by the fact he’s having an affair with Lois (Georgina Onuorah), who plays Bianca in the production, and she is actually in love with fellow cast member Bill (Charlie Stemp).

Bill is a gambler and has built up a sizeable debt and signed an IOU to his gangster creditor but in Fred’s name. Just before curtain call two mobsters turn up to get their boss’ money from Fred. He’s clueless to this but, realising they’re not believing him, persuades them they can have the money at the end of the week, when the show is done. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding between Fred and Lilli has her walking out of the production until forcibly returned by the mobsters. And this is just the backstage shenanigans.

Stephanie J Block as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine (Photo: Johan Persson)

Front of house there’s a production of The Taming of the Shrew to keep going but the backstage antics are interfering with that too. What results is a near-farcical, slapstick comedy of misunderstanding, misadventure and misgivings. Sam & Bella Spewack’s book deftly layers the multitude of sub-plots and counter plots into a cohesive whole. It is wonderfully funny but not at the expense of an emotional heart. The interplay between 1948 America and 1600s Shakespeare is used to excellent effect in spotlighting changing gender politics without being preachy.

Cole Porter’s songs are a heaven-made match. His blend of swing jazz and classical orchestrations provides a soundtrack that works perfectly in both time settings, but it’s his lyrics that are the hero here. His ability to drive forward narrative, spotlight deep emotion and conflict, or elevate the comedy is sublime.

Barlett Sher’s direction is spot on. It’s beautifully paced and presents the energy, anxiety and excitement of a theatrical production on opening night. The multiple storylines are coherent, and the comedy is delivered sharply. If any of the concerns my chums expressed on earlier productions were true, they have been addressed perfectly.

Adrian Dunbar as Fred Graham /Petruchio (Photo: Johan Persson)

Anthony Van Laast’s choreography delivers some show-stopping set pieces but makes other numbers equally wondrous to watch as they physically capture the emotion of the songs and scene. But it is his opening number of Act 2, “Too Darn Hot” that is the crowning glory. It is a 5-minute breathtaking number, built around a mesmerising central performance from Jack Butterworth as Paul, that had the audience erupt with euphoric cheers and applause on its conclusion.

The cast are all great, but special mention has to be made of Stephanie J. Block who brilliantly traverses her role as the Shrew and the put-upon ex-wife, bringing comedy, frustration and anger to it without being overblown. Georgina Onuorah is equally wonderful as the sexy and sassy Lois, delivering a performance that showcases, in a story where women are the subject of control, the joys of a woman free in her mind, body and ambitions.

Charlie Stemp Bill Calhoun / Lucentio and Georgina Onuorah Lois Lane / Bianca (Photo: Johan Persson)

Adrian Dunbar is initially an odd choice for Fred. He is known for many things, but musical theatre is not high on that list. However, he is a great foil for Block’s Lilli. There’s a sense that some of the musical production has shifted to consider some of his singing limitations, but that’s not to the detriment of the show. His comedy timing is spot on and he gives some appropriate heft to the Shakespearean text. Charlie Stemp is, as ever good, but you’re left wondering why, having taken the lead in Crazy For You!  and Half a Sixpence, he’s taken on such a comparatively small role. An odd choice, but a joy to watch.

A special final mention has to go to Michael Yeargan’s ingenious set design which rotates to give us various front of house designs, backstage, and dressing rooms. The stage is in near continuous rotation giving an almost cinematic movement between the various locations and enabling characters to move effortlessly from one place to another.  Catherine Zuber’s costumes are gorgeous. 

Make no doubt about it, if there’s any justice, this should be the blockbuster show of the summer. This is a production that has been produced with love of the source material, but without being hemmed in by it. This is a joy to watch and will have you leaving the theatre with a spring in your step and a smile on your face. What more could you ask for?

The Company of Kiss Me Kate with Charlie Stemp in the middle (Photo: Johan Persson)

Musical Numbers

Act One


    Another Op’nin’ Another Show

    Why Can’t You Behave


    So in Love

    We Open in Venice

    Tom, Dick or Harry

    I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily 

in Padua

    I Hate Men

    Cantiamo D’Amore

    Kiss Me, Kate

Act Two  

    Too Darn Hot    

    Where Is the Life That Late I Led?

    Always True to You 

(In My Fashion)


    So in Love (Reprise)

    Brush Up Your Shakespeare

    I Am Ashamed That People 

Are So Simple


Production Notes

Kiss Me Kate

Book by Sam and. Bella Speck

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast

Directed by Bartlett Sher




Adrian Dunbar

Stephanie J Block

Charlie Stemp

Peter Davison

Georgina Onuorah

Nigel Lindsay

Hammed Animashaun 


Josie Benson 

Jack Butterworth 

Jude Owusu 

Carl Au 

Jordan Crouch 

Gary Milner 

James Hume 


Alisha Capon

Shani Cantor

Maya de Faria

Amelia Kinu-Muus

Jacqui Jameson

Lucas Koch

Alex Lodge

Nell Martin

Anna McGarahan

John Stacey

Harrison Wilde


Robin Kent

Barry Drummond

Emily Goodenough

Maddie Harper 



Director: Bartlett Sher

Choreographer: Anthony Van Laast

Set Designer: Michael Yeargan

Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber

Musical Supervisor: Stephen Ridley

Lighting Designer: Donald Holder

Sound Designer: Adam Fisher

Musical Director:  Stephen Ridley

Orchestrator:  Don Sebesky
Fight director: Kev McCurdy



Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval

 Booking until 14th September 2024



Barbican Theatre

Barbican Centre

Silk Street

London EC2Y 8DS

Box Office:

020 7638 4141

Barbican Website:

Tube: Barbican or Moorgate

Reviewed by Sonny Waheed

at the Barbican Theatre on 18th June 2024

Adrian Dunbar as Fred Graham/Petruchio, Nigel Lindsay as Gangster and Hammed Animashaun as Gangster (Photo: Johan Persson)