In January, Musical Cyberspace is going to work through a chain of musicals. This is how it works: each day I will discuss, in brief, a musical linked to the previous day’s musical by some kind of common ground. It follows then, that if you – dear reader – liked the previous day’s show, then you might enjoy the current day’s show. Comments, as alway, are welcome!
If you like Guys and Dolls, then you might like Kiss Me, Kate.
As big a triumph for Cole Porter as Guys and Dolls was for Frank Loesser, Kiss Me, Kate is another of the great musical comedies. Like Guys and Dolls, which would follow it to Broadway two years later, the show features a score that has nary a weak link as hit song follows hit song as witty repartee flies back on forth between the characters in the book. And of course, Kiss Me, Kate sports two gangsters who could be residents of Runyonland popping into the theatre where Kiss Me Kate’s show-within-a-show is being rehearsed.
The basic plot of Kiss Me, Kate is one which deals with the love affairs of a company of players who are staging some kind of adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. (That the nature of this adaptation is never quite clarified is one of the idiosyncrasies of the show, as is the showstopping number performed by the two gangsters late in Act II. The MGM film version managed to sort that last one out, one of the things that the film got right amidst a slew of missteps.) So we have Frederick Graham, playing Petruchio, romancing and taming his old flame and ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, who is playing Katherine. Good-time girl, Lois Lane, who plays Bianca, is having trouble with her gambling actor boyfriend, Bill Calhoun, and is also having trouble committing to just him. Bill’s gambling debts bring to the theatre two gangsters who are trying to collect a debt against which Bill has signed Frederick’s name. In true musical comedy style, everything gets well and truly tangled up before unraveling for a happy ending by the time of the final curtain. The score includes highlights such as “So in Love”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, “Tom, Dick or Harry”, “Where is the Life that Late I Led?” and “I Hate Men”.
Kiss Me, Kate holds the honour of being the musical to win a Tony Award presented for Best Musical. A comeback for Cole Porter, who had not been able to replicate his success in the 1920s and 1930s in the decade that followed and was considered to be past his prime, Kiss Me, Kate was – like Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, a musical comedy that was aware of conventions of the musical play that had been waiting in the wings of musical theatre for many years and which became standard almost overnight after the opening of Oklahoma!, and which used them to reinvent the type of musical comedy that had been en vogue on Broadway in previous years. Cole Porter’s legacy as a songwriter is untouchable, but it is this show that endures (along with Anything Goes), reminding us that he could be a top-drawer theatremaker too.
So, now it’s time to share your thoughts on Kiss Me, Kate. And what shows would you suggest to fans of this show? See which one we’ll feature here tomorrow…