'The Marriage of Kim K': Theater Review

The Marriage of Kim K Production Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Leon and Hyde
Mock me, Amadeus.

Kim Kardashian’s love life gets operatic treatment in this new British stage musical, which is heading for London and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Opera meets celebrity soap opera in this slight but ambitious British stage musical, a post-modern mashup that draws parallels between Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage to NBA star Kris Humphries back in 2011. Conceived by the youthful duo of composer Stephen Hyde and librettist Leo Mercer, The Marriage of Kim K premiered in prototype form last year. Reconfigured and shortened, this new version has been warming up on a well-received regional tour for the last few weeks ahead of a July 25-29 London run at the Arcola Theatre, followed by a monthlong residency at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

As a theatrical experience, The Marriage of Kim K is a little uneven, but fizzing with inspired ideas. While the sung-through libretto is peppered with four-letter wordplay, some may be disappointed that it does not test the limits of lurid excess-all-arias vulgarity that earned notoriety for recent operas about Jerry Springer or Anna Nicole Smith. All the same, the execution is witty and the musical craftsmanship hard to fault.

The minimal set is divided into three interlocking sections. On one side, Kardashian (Yasemine Mireille, giving great bootylicious diva) and Humphries (James Edge in cheerfully dumb beefcake mode) act out their money-driven courtship rituals for the TV cameras. While Kardashian gives vapid make-up tutorials, the sex-crazed Humphries preens and twerks and flaunts his ripped body. The duo’s shared musical numbers lean toward contemporary R&B and rap, but the underlying melodies are adapted almost wholesale from Mozart, in common with the rest of the show’s score. Though these performances are comic caricatures, they are rendered with more fondness than condescension.

Meanwhile, center stage, frustrated opera composer Stephen (the show’s real-life composer and director Stephen Hyde, in a nicely meta conceit) and his trainee lawyer wife Amelia (Amelia Gabriel, also Hyde’s offstage partner) are locked in a perpetual power struggle over their clashing cultural tastes. While she relishes the guilty pleasure of watching Kardashian’s trashy TV show, he boorishly insists on replaying Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for creative inspiration. When Stephen disdains Amelia’s lowbrow appetites, she points out the clear parallels between Kardashian-style soap-opera antics and Mozart’s 18th-century romp, with its bawdy humor and conjugal pyrotechnics.

Running in parallel with these two stories, a third plotline reworks various scenes from The Marriage of Figaro itself. Garbed in full period costume, Emily Burnett and Nathan Bellis give joyously energized performances as the Countess and Count Almaviva, whose adversarial duets and anguished marital melodramas make the other two couples onstage look like amateurs. Both classically trained, Burnett and Bellis have the strongest voices of this production; they wring every last drop of comic zest from Mozart’s high-camp romp.

As a straight piece of drama, The Marriage of Kim K is an imperfect affair. Stephen and Amelia are pretty colorless as both performers and characters, the contrived friction between them far too flimsy to serve as a convincing marital dealbreaker, especially given the constant two-way traffic between high and low culture nowadays. That said, their bickering does throw up some fine jokes, as when Amelia switches on the subtitles during The Marriage of Figaro and the singers onstage instantly change gear from Italian to English.

Musically, on the other hand, this show is a dazzling technical achievement. A small chamber orchestra performs the score live from the edge of the stage, rapidly switching styles for each of the three couples. More ambitious numbers feature three or more intertwined vocals, each lyric different yet still mostly audible and comprehensible. There are wry in-jokes galore, including allusions to Pharrell’s “Happy” and to Kanye West’s infamous onstage challenge to Taylor Swift. Plus plenty of old-fashioned droll rhymes too: “Do these britches flatter, or make me look fatter?” the Count frets at one point.

A few technical glitches seemed to plague the Buxton fringe festival performance caught for this review, with vocal microphones mixed too low or not working effectively, hence some of the weaker singers were intermittently drowned out by the music. But these minor snags will presumably be resolved before the show’s London run begins next week. Overall, the attention to detail is forensic, the skill level superlative for such a small production.

The sketchy picture of Kim Kardashian that emerges from The Marriage of Kim K is gently mocking but ultimately affectionate. The show’s program notes jokingly predict that the reality TV diva will sue Hyde and Mercer in the near future, so perhaps the duo are playing safe, but in any case their take-home message is against snobbery and pro generosity of spirit. A trite conclusion, but delivered in a smart and lively package.

Venue: Studio Theatre, Buxton Opera House, Buxton, U.K.
Cast: Yasemine Mireille, James Edge, Emily Burnett, Nathan Bellis, Stephen Hyde, Amelia Gabriel
Director, composer: Stephen Hyde
Libretto: Leo Mercer
Additional music: Clem Faux, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Producer, set, costume & lighting designer: Alexander Newton
Musical director: Sam Davies
Presented by Leoeandhyde