Brush up your Shakespeare

The former EastEnder Michael Greco salutes the Bard in a new take on Kiss Me, Kate
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The Independent Culture

A new production of Cole Porter's musical Kiss Me, Kate is opening at the New Wimbledon Theatre next week. Michael Greco, best known for his stint as the womanising Beppe di Marco in EastEnders, will play a Shakespeare-loving gangster. With his fellow hood, played by Les Dennis, he is pursuing a gambling debt amid the romantic entanglements of a theatrical troupe who are staging The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore.

A new production of Cole Porter's musical Kiss Me, Kate is opening at the New Wimbledon Theatre next week. Michael Greco, best known for his stint as the womanising Beppe di Marco in EastEnders, will play a Shakespeare-loving gangster. With his fellow hood, played by Les Dennis, he is pursuing a gambling debt amid the romantic entanglements of a theatrical troupe who are staging The Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore.

"Theatre is the mode I trained in as an actor, and it's what inspires me more," says Greco. "I was first interested in musicals when I was at drama school and I went to see The Phantom of the Opera. I find them so uplifting." Greco first enjoyed success in the West End playing Billy Flynn in Chicago. "It was one of my first jobs after leaving EastEnders. Luckily, I got great reviews."

Kiss Me, Kate opened at the New Century Theatre, New York, in December 1948, and was an instant success. The book was written by the then-separated veteran comedy writers Sam and Bella Spewack (who were reunited while working on the project). Porter's score, meanwhile, takes advantage of the play-within-a-play structure: the numbers created for the Taming of the Shrew scenes (such as "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua") quote from the Bard; songs for the actors' off-stage antics use more contemporary language ("Too Darn Hot" and "Always True to You In My Fashion", for example).

Greco has been preparing for his role in a number of ways. "I've had singing lessons. I've got the kind of 5 o'clock stubble a gangster needs and I've been improving my very over-the-top New York accent. I play a Jimmy Cagney-type gangster. I've been wearing a suit and shoes [for rehearsals] to give me that strength and depth of the weight of the character." And he's optimistic about his singing voice. "I've become a lot more chilled since I did Chicago. I'll have some confidence going into this." Greco will be joined by Dennis for the immortal Bardic rallying cry, "Brush up Your Shakespeare". "We're very much chalk and cheese," says Greco of his on-stage partner. "Our two characters will be completely different from each other."

So what lured Grecoaway from Dot Cotton and the intricacies of life in Walford? "Because of the greater scope to do better work in the theatre," he says. "I became an actor to do different types of characters in different types of film and on stage. I'm working on a film which is loosely based on The Swimmer, originally with Burt Lancaster, a horror film and a tragic romantic comedy."

Not everybody will take time out to see Kiss Me, Kate, as Greco admits. "Musicals are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them." However, he is optimistic about this production. "The actors are true professionals. I would be very surprised if this show didn't get transferred to the West End. It's been a really good six months for me."

New Wimbledon Theatre, London SW19 (0870 060 6646) from 23 August, then touring

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