A New York Theatre Guide to... Kiss Me, Kate!
Here's all you need to know about Rounadout Theatre Company's stylish revival of the Cole Porter classic...
One of only two musical revivals on the Great White Way this 2018-2019 season, Roundabout Theatre Company presents the 1948 classic Kiss Me, Kate at the iconic Studio 54. Boasting that luscious score from the legendary Cole Porter with standards such as “So in Love,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” Kiss Me, Kate was the first-ever winner of the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 1949 and now, 70 years later, it continues to shine bright as one of the nostalgic flag-bearers of Broadway’s Golden Age. This 2019 production began previews on February 14, officially opened on March 14, earned four Tony Award nominations on April 30, and is currently scheduled to end its limited Broadway engagement on June 30, 2019.
What’s it all about?
Set in June 1948 at a theatre in Baltimore, Kiss Me, Kate takes the form of a play-within-a-play (or rather a musical-within-a-musical) as a company of actors and their backstage antics mirror their brand new production – a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Producer, director and male lead Fred Graham and his ex-wife (and leading lady) Lilli Vanessi are not on the best of terms, it’s safe to say, when we first encounter them, but the show must go on and soon their offstage sparring begins to boil and spills over onto the stage during their first night of Shrew directly in front of the Baltimore audience. As their onstage characters of Petruchio and Katherine (aka Kate) wage their verbal and even physical war, can Fred “tame” his real life shrew and can love conquer against all odds? A secondary romance also travels a bump road during Kiss Me, Kate between good-hearted (albeit with a gambling problem) suitor Bill Calhoun and the free-loving Lois Lane, who also play the fated couple of Lucentio and Bianca in Shrew. Art imitates life imitating art in this musical comedy where the destinies of Shakespeare’s well-known figures and their ‘real life’ players delightfully intertwine.
Who’s starring in it?
The biggest draw of this 2019 Broadway revival is, of course, Tony Award winner and Broadway darling Kelli O’Hara, who stars as Lilli Vanessi (and Kate). This marks her first Broadway venture since her Tony Award-winning turn as Anna Leonowens in The King and I at Lincoln Center Theater, which she departed in April 2016. Truly a modern Broadway leading lady, O’Hara has garnered wide acclaim, especially for her beautifully rich, mezzo-soprano vocals, over the course of her Broadway career which has also accumulated Tony nominations for celebrated turns in The Bridges of Madison County, Nice Work If You Can Get It, South Pacific, The Pajama Game, and The Light in the Piazza. Starring alongside her as Fred Graham (and Petruchio) is the ever-so-charming Will Chase, a Tony Award nominee in his own right who TV viewers will probably recognise as Luke Wheeler on ABC’s country music-themed hit series “Nashville”. Corbin Bleu, the “High School Musical” star who stole many a young teen’s heart as Chad Danforth, once again proves his musical chops – and his extraordinary talent for dance – as Bill Calhoun/Lucentio. Having wowed critics and audiences alike in Roundabout’s Holiday Inn, The Irving Berlin Musical back in 2016, Bleu is well on his way to becoming a true Great of the Broadway stage. And a special mention goes to Stephanie Styles, who knocks it out of the park with giddy abandon in her Broadway debut as Lois Lane/Bianca.
What’s special about this production?
Sometimes plays or musicals of a certain era can’t help but reflect the societal norms of that particular era and all too often those norms have thankfully become sincerely outdated. The book for Kiss Me, Kate, written in 1948 by Bella and Samuel Spewack (who were coincidentally also experiencing marital woes at the time), would never be found on a feminist’s Top 10 today. Neither would The Taming of the Shrew for that matter either. But Roundabout enlisted Amanda Green to update the book for this 2019 revival in an attempt to neutralize the dilemma for the #MeToo era. This results in Lilli calling a truce, rather than simply giving in to her male counterpart, as she sings “I am ashamed that people are so simple,” as opposed to “I am ashamed that women are so simple” in the original. Other noteworthy aspects of this revival include Warren Carlyle’s stunning choreography (especially during Act II opener “Too Darn Hot”) which has a great chance of nabbing the 2019 Tony Award and, of course, Ms. O’Hara’s effortlessly impressive vocal range and her perhaps surprising knack for comedy.
Who would we recommend it to?
It is a sad fact that Broadway is producing less and less musical revivals and we would like to thank Roundabout Theatre Company for enabling theatre aficionados to experience Golden Age musicals the nostalgic, Golden way. If you’ve enjoyed recent revivals the likes of My Fair Lady, Carousel, Hello, Dolly!, She Loves Me, On the Twentieth Century, or The King and I, then you’ll feel right at home for this updated yet truly loyal production of a Cole Porter classic.
Kiss Me, Kate Tickets are available now.
(Photos by Joan Marcus)