Great American Musicals don’t get much greater than Kiss Me, Kate. Cole Porter and Sam & Bella Spewack’s masterpiece debuted on Broadway in 1948 to extraordinary acclaim, amassing rave reviews and winning the first-ever Tony Award® for Best Musical. Quickly solidifying its place as one of the most celebrated works in the musical theatre canon, Kiss Me, Kate would go on to enchant generations of theatergoers and elevate the American musical to new heights.
Kiss Me, Kate pits fiery actors Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham against each other on the opening night of their latest show – a musical rendition of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Their legendary duel, waged with barbed improvisation and no-holds-barred trickery, gleefully mirrors the conflict between Shrew’s own main characters, Katharina and Petruchio.
But the real origins of Lilli and Fred’s face-off lie in the true story of two of the 20th century’s largest Broadway personalities: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. A married couple who appeared in over two dozen plays together over the course of their careers, Lunt and Fontanne made one of their most significant marks on the theatrical landscape with a 1935 production of The Taming of the Shrew. The duo, playing the leading roles, battled each other both on and offstage for the show’s entire run, often blurring the lines between their characters and themselves. The show’s stage manager, fascinated by Lunt and Fontanne’s strange marital dynamic, would later approach Cole Porter and the Spewacks to write a musical based on the two actors.
And the rest is history. Or, rather, made history. On top of eliciting an overwhelming response from critics and audience members alike, Kiss Me, Kate helped reshape the musical form as we know it. For the first time, master composer/lyricist Cole Porter integrated his songs directly into the story of his musical. Whereas in his earlier shows, songs would exist outside of the storyline, Porter devised such timeless Kiss Me, Kate showtunes as “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “So In Love,” and “Always True To You In My Fashion” to both advance the plot and stand on their own as hits. Though not the first show to experiment with musical “integration,” Kiss Me, Kate further popularized what would remain the standard form of musical theatre to this day.
Kiss Me, Kate’s great influence on the theatre of our past is undeniable. Now, where can it fit in our future? For all its musical and dramatic innovation, Kiss Me, Kate – like any classic work – will always be a product of its time, and the gender politics that it dramatizes may not always agree with those of today. But it is exactly the work of a revival to contend with this dissonance by presenting the truth of our past alongside the perspective of our present.
And the phenomenal team behind this production of Kiss Me, Kate has done just that. Directed by Roundabout’s own Associate Artistic Director Scott Ellis, choreographed by Warren Carlyle, and starring the incomparable Kelli O’Hara, Will Chase, and Corbin Bleu, Kiss Me, Kate emerges both magical and mindful, timeless and transcendent. And as the fourth Roundabout collaboration between Scott Ellis and Warren Carlyle, it showcases the kind of enduring artistic partnerships that make me happiest to see flourish on our stages. I cannot wait for you to see this incredible production of Kiss Me, Kate, revitalized for 2019 with all the mesmerizing power of its 1948 premiere.
As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts on our season, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your reactions. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!