Brush Up On Your Shakespeare

When I got the opportunity to write for the Board, I knew that I would want to write about a mix of classic musicals and the more modern musicals which receive more attention today. This week I wanted to use Kiss Me, Kate a show that opened in 1948 and won the best musical Tony in 1949. With words and music by Cole Porter and a book (dialogue) by Samuel and Bella Spewack this is a musical comedy, with some hints of romance tossed in for good measure. This musical won the first Best Musical Tony Award in 1949; prior to that musicals and plays had been within the same category.  

The plot of the show follows a conceited leading man, director and producer named Fred Graham who is reunited with his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi when the two of them must play opposite each other in a production of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The drama between the man and woman happens both onstage as their characters and offstage as an arguing couple. As the show progresses, we see that as much as the two say they hate each other, deep down the couple still very much loves each other. Also in the production is Lois Lane, who supports her gambler boyfriend Bill as he attempts to dodge the clasp of local gangsters.

Why I love this musical, and I think that most people would agree with me, is that the music is fantastic. The music and lyrics work so well together to enhance the script of this play within a play, and I feel as though they don’t write them like this anymore, which is why this musical is considered a classic. I would say this is one of the best aspects about this musical, everything working so cohesively to make one unit; this musical is not three parts working against each other, this is all three parts working to tell one story. I have come across musicals where there are one or two songs that I like, but with Kiss Me, Kate I love every single song, and I feel as though every song has a purpose. That is the song(s) is not just tossed in because it works with one aspect of the show. The orchestrations in this show are just phenomenal, and they add an extra layer to the story that takes it to the next level.

This production is convoluted because you have a play within a play, much like Shakespeare’s works, and the characters have two names — one on-stage and one off-stage. I could see how this could be a turn-off for people, it’s a lot to take in and if you miss something, you are lost for the full show or at least a section of the musical. This musical is based on a Shakespeare play, and Shakespeare is not for everyone for a variety of reasons: characters, plot, language, double meaning and so on. People hear the word Shakespeare, and they just start running possibly due to the bad experiences that they have had in their past, probably in an English class, so that trauma is why someone would never touch this musical with a ten-foot pole. On the other hand, the texture of the dual stories that are so seamlessly integrated is what draws many audiences.

I love this show is because it is a classic. It just screams a tale of yesteryear to me and I would say that the production is the epitome of what a classic musical should be. Going along with the story, the characters in this musical are very real and it is filled with wit and good dialogue.  I feel this is one of the stronger aspects of the musical. I would love to see us go back and write a musical with clever lyrics, a glorious score, a witty book and characters that are multi-layered like these characters are.

People today are not introduced to the classics so they would only know this if they went out and searched for it. This is the other reason why I feel that people don’t like this musical, they just hear the word “classic” and they think it is no longer relevant to the world that we live in today.

I hope that this recap introduced you to the glorious musical production of Kiss Me, Kate or, if you’re like me and already knew it, I hope that it rekindled your love for the musical. If you would like to see this work on the stage, look for the revival starting in 2019!