JR OutLoud: Musical director and orchestrator David Charles Abell discusses his work on Kiss Me Kate


As Opera North revives its acclaimed 2015 production of Kiss Me Kate, the supremely witty reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew by Cole Porter and Bella and Sam Spewack, Judi Herman speaks to the show’s  orchestrator and original musical director David Charles Abell. They discuss the Spewacks, the brilliant Jewish husband and wife team, revealing the role the Spewacks played in getting Cole Porter onboard to write the musical that revived his career, one of his best and most popular works.

Photo by Guy Farrow

Kiss Me Kate runs Saturday 23 – Saturday 30 June. 7.30pm (Mon- Sat) 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). £10-£105. London Coliseum, WC2N 4ES. 020 7845 9300. www.operanorth.co.uk

The show then tours to Scotland Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 July. 7.15pm, 2.15pm (Sat only). £15.50-£49.50. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, EH8 9FT. 013 1529 6000. www.operanorth.co.uk

JR OutLoud: Phil Willmott talks about directing the European premiere of Arthur Miller’s last play

In two scenes of Finishing the Picture recorded exclusively for JR OutLoud, we meet the outrageous husband and wife acting coaches, based on Lee and Paula Strasberg. In the first extract coach Flora, played by Nicky Goldie, is complaining to producer Phillip, played by Oliver Le Sueur, about ‘horrific’ working conditions and disrespect. Later you’ll hear Tony Wredden as Jerome, Paula’s pretentious husband. The action takes place on a movie set and director Phil Willmott reveals just how personal Arthur Miller gets in this autobiographical play inspired by the filming of The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe’s last movie, for which he wrote the screenplay; and just how resonant the vulnerable star’s treatment is today and for the ‘Me Too’ movement.

Finishing the Picture runs Tuesday 12 June – Saturday 7 July. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 3pm (Sat & Sun only). £18-£20, £16-£18 concs. Finborough Theatre, SW10 9ED. 01223 357 851. www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Discover more podcasts on JR OutLoud and read our latest theatre reviews.

Review: Into the Woods ★★★ – Sondheim’s dark meta fairy tale gets a bewitching update

I tried explaining Sondheim’s complex morality fable to my five-year-old granddaughter. “You might find it scary,” I said. “It weaves together the stories of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk with a new story about a baker and his wife. The pair long for a baby, but after the outcome you expect, some unexpected scary stuff starts to happen.”

“Lots of fairy tales are scary anyway, Nana,” she retorted. She has a point. Sondheim’s unravelling and his moral – “be careful what you wish for” – are a timely warning. Book is by James Lapine and director Tim McArthur gives it a 21st-century reality TV check, a fresh new spin that really works.

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Review: Shirleymander ★★★★ – A fast-moving, forensic comic-strip exposé of a Tory bad girl

Known for her wickedly accurate voicing of Edwina Currie in Spitting Image, Jessica Martin is ideal casting for another prominent Jewish Tory gal: Shirley Porter. This larger-than-life anti-heroine was leader of Westminster Council from 1983 to 1991. Martin’s Porter is vociferous, loud and colourful (literally, in a series of 80s power outfits that the Dallas and Dynasty cast would have killed for), revelling in walking all over her subordinates and unafraid to show her contempt for the disadvantaged of Westminster.

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Review: The Chess Player ★★★★ – A masterly staging of a gripping war game

I have to admit to not being a chess player. It’s a tribute to Richard McElvain, and of course to Stefan Zweig’s original story, that this dramatised account of how a man might survive and even triumph over extreme deprivation thanks to resilience, will power and a chess manual  gripped me straightaway. Just after the Anschluss, a Viennese Jewish lawyer imprisoned by the Gestapo is kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, save for when he is marched off for repeated intensive interrogation. He manages to steal a book from his tormentors that turns out to be that chess manual. And his salvation.

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Classic choice: David Herman celebrates Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint

Philip Roth (left) and Primo Levi in Turin during the interview in Shop Talk, 1986.

“Why are you so nasty?” Brenda asks Neil in Philip Roth’s first book, Goodbye, Columbus. Nasty? Neil was tame stuff compared to some of Roth’s later heroes and no one comes nastier than Alex Portnoy. If Goodbye, Columbus launched Roth at the end of the 1950s, it was Portnoy’s Complaint, published ten years later, that made him a household name. It is when he found his voice as a writer: fast, furious, funny and very, very Jewish.

Portnoy was a book of its time, one of the best Jewish American novels of the Sixties. Published at the height of the 1960s, it was about sex, race and letting go. The whole novel is one long monologue by Alex Portnoy, lying on his analyst’s couch, trying to find out where it all went wrong.

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Interview: Israeli composer Na’ama Zisser tells us about writing her Jewish opera Mamzer Bastard

© Mariana Kazarnovsky

**Please note this is an abridged version. Read the full interview in the upcoming July issue of Jewish Renaissance.

Imagine you’re in New York in the 1970s. Jimmy Carter is either in office or about to be, bands like the Bee Gees and Elton John are vying for top spot in the charts, and one very apprehensive groom named Yoel is dreading his impending wedding.

“It’s not necessarily just about the wedding,” clarifies Na’ama Zisser, the composer of this unique Jewish opera, Mamzer Bastard. “Throughout his life Yoel has felt a bit like a misfit, that maybe there’s something wrong with him, but he doesn’t quite know why. I think the wedding is the climax of these emotions – the point where he thinks: ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’”

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Review: Effigies of Wickedness ★★★★ – A riot of colour, challenging ideas and songs with bite that the Nazis tried to ban

When the Nazis branded music by Jewish composers and ‘negro music’, the so-called ‘degenerate’ music of the Weimar cabaret, an ‘effigy of wickedness’ – they banned it too. But not before staging a Degenerate Music Exhibition, complete with listening booths to teach the public what to deplore, and people queued round the block for the chance to hear it. Eighty years later you may still have to queue to see this compelling, provocative and wildly colourful cabaret.

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Get a look at the four student films set to be showcased at the 11th TAU Night at the Movies

Israel is rightly famed for its thriving film industry for directors, actors and other creatives who produce films that provide snapshots of life in Israel. From delicious quirky comedies to tense dramas: they are not afraid to engage with the difficult issues facing the septuagenarian state and its inhabitants.

Every year the Tel Aviv University (TAU) Night at the Movies provides an exciting opportunity for UK audiences to see a handful of short films created by graduates from the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU. And every year they provide new proof that the future of Israel’s film industry is in safe hands.

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Review: SHOW ★★★★ – Hofesh Shechter’s apprentice company dances up a whirlwind of comedy and menace

Celebrated choreographer Hofesh Shechter presents Shechter II, his apprentice company for dancers ages 18-25. Just eight extraordinary young international talents, chosen from over 1,000 who auditioned, prove they are already a force to be reckoned with. Rock gig meets circus in this funny, disturbing, sexy show, tinged with the menace of gothic horror.

Dressed in an intriguing amalgam of costumes (costume supervisor Laura Rushton) suggesting clowns, music hall and Edwardiana, the dancers group and regroup, by turns amorous and supportive and threateningly murderous. Attraction proves fatal as, with dizzying speed, they move from ardent embrace to ruthless assassination. As they execute their deceptively wild and fluid measures, they take turns to execute each other, stabbing and strangling, falling and jerking in repeated death throes, only to rise and start all over again. It’s as if Mr Punch had come to life and inspired a whole troupe of imitators.

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