‘Kiss Me, Kate’: A Broadway Revival From the Golden Era of Musicals

Community theaters across the world rejoice: “Kiss Me, Kate” is returning to Broadway for a much-talked-about revival. This is a classic musical from the Golden Era of Musicals. Featuring music and lyrics from the unsurpassed genius of Cole Porter, and with an always silly, always plucky plot revolving around a battle of the sexes, “Kiss Me, Kate” is based on a musical version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” It’s an always topical, always interesting subject, this ongoing battle of the sexes. From Shakespeare’s time to our contemporary moment, the war rages on — onstage and off.

Among the current political landscape, this revival is sure to be a refreshing breath of comic relief. Kelli O’Hara plays the lead Lilli Vanessi, who is at loggerheads with her ex-husband Fred Graham (Will Chase). The entire production is a musical-within-a-musical; a classic Shakespearean/Baroque structure, with a behind-the-scenes feel that is more or less one of those theater pieces that is essentially about theater itself.

Divorced Broadway stars Fred and Lilli agree to star in a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” alongside rising young actors Lois Lane (Stephanie Styles) and Bill Calhoun (Corbin Bleu). Backstage complications pile up due to a romantic misunderstanding between Fred and the soon-to-be-remarried Lilli, while Bill’s gambling debts cause a pair of lunkheaded mobsters to become part of the show. The shenanigans are part of the low-consequences romantic comedy genre typical of the era.

The script of the old standard has been slightly manipulated for 2019 audiences — theater purists beware. The original production was the first-ever winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, so perhaps a little sprucing up was in order. Tony-nominated composer and lyricist Amanda Green was the woman for the job, who performed what she called a similar “delicate surgery” on her father Adolph Green’s script, “On The Twentieth Century,” for the revival of that show in 2015. For “Kiss Me, Kate,” the primary issue at hand was the power dynamic between Fred and Lilli. It’s fair to say, the assumptions toward the roles of husband and wife are quite different now than they were in 1949. The goal seems worthy enough: Green has expressed the desire for a young girl to be able to walk away from this slightly-altered version of the Broadway standard feeling empowered.

Overall, the show has everything one could want from a Broadway production: a great book by Cole Porter, with song after song of toe-tapping appeal, gangsters, romance, humor, and a good bit of poking fun at the Bard. The lead, Kelli O’Hara, is a Tony Award winner herself for her portrayal of Anna in 2015’s revival of “The King and I.” Directed by Scott Ellis and with the choreography of Warren Carlyle (rumor has it the dancing is spectacular) this musical is set to be one of the better revivals in a slew of revivals on Broadway right now.

Kiss Me, Kate” runs Feb. 14 through June 30 at New York’s Studio 54