Wonderful news for those who missed the Tony Award winning 1999 revival of Kiss Me Kate. Its sister 2001 West End production, nominated for 8 Olivier Awards, will arrive on BroadwayHD this Sunday, with a stellar creative team and four gifted stars in the leads. Initially winning for Best Musical in 1949, Kiss Me Kate took home awards for Bella and Samuel Spewack’s snappy script and Cole Porter’s witty songs, some of which might sound familiar even if you didn’t know their origin. The original cast recording is so woven into our cultural fabric, it resides in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
The vehicle is a welcome addition for lovers of big splashy musicals since the action revolves around a big splashy musical. It is the Baltimore opening night of a new musical production based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, conceived, directed and starring the dedicated but egotistical Fred Graham. Despite their tumultuous relationship, he has asked his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi to play Katherine to his Petruchio, hoping that her brief stint in Hollywood films will attract financial backers. Graham has also started a flirtation with Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca. She in turn is involved with cast member Bill Calhoun who, using Graham’s name, has racked up a large debt to a loan shark. Viewers will benefit from doing as the song says and brushing up their Shakespeare in order to follow the threads from Taming of the Shrew as the focus swings back to the Fred and Lilli storyline. Period should be kept in mind since many plot points hinge on way-pre-#metoo era behavior.
Captured during its London run and adapted by Michael Blakemore from his own stage work, the streaming production is flowingly directed by Chris Hunt using a team of 7 high-def cameras. His mixture of perspectives never breaks the illusion that we are watching a proscenium stage. This is particular noticeable during the flashy dance numbers set to songs that actually forward the story and character development. In a twist, the theater audiences is used as Graham’s opening night house. Captivating choreography by Kathleen Marshall makes the most of the skillful ensemble, blending slinky dance styles with pure athleticism. Scenic designer Robin Wagner defines sense of place by flattening the Shrew sets and coloring them in storybook fashion while keeping the representation of backstage realistic and stark. All the better to bring out the brilliant detailing of Martin Pakledinaz’s Tony Award winning on and off stage wardrobes (particularly Lois’s peek-a-boo outfits) and Paul Huntley’s delightful wig and hat designs.
It is always thrilling to see a stage filled with a large company such as the ensemble of 13 who here play Graham’s troupe. The cast members led by Broadway veterans Brent Barrett and Rachel York all sing clearly with nuanced interpretation. Nancy Anderson and Michael Berresse as Lois and Bill give us the playful duet Why Can’t You Behave. The two strong opening act numbers — Another Op’nin’, Another Show and Too Darn Hot — feature Kaye E. Brown as Lilli’s assistant Hattie and Nolan Frederick as Fred’s man Paul. Even Jack Chissick and Teddy Kempner as two gangsters have their moment in the spotlight’s glow.
Kiss Me Kate is engaging family entertainment in traditional style. Director Hunt eliminates intermission and uses movie-like blackouts to replace scene changes, so runtime is cut to 2 hours and 27 minutes. This streaming exclusive will be available to BroadwayHD subscribers beginning January 15, 2023. Visit https://www.broadwayhd.com for pricing options.
The Lifespan of a Fact
In this age of high anxiety and bitter divide, it didn’t seem possible that anyone could write a play that was both timely and hilarious. Amazingly The Lifespan of a Fact — based on true events surrounding the development of an article about a Las Vegas teen’s suicide — achieves this blissful combination. Written in vivid detail by nonconformist writer John D’Agata, the original 2005 article was assigned for fact-checking to an ambitious magazine intern, Jim Fingal. D’Agata and Fingal’s conflict over the nature and role of facts spanned seven years and resulted in an essay and a book which in turn inspired Lifespan’s script by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell. With so many fingers on keyboards, this production could have been a cacophonous mess, but the logic and story are sound. Fingal’s on stage persona makes a strong case for journalistic integrity and thorough research. Equally persuasive is D’Agata’s viewpoint that the right words, however poetic, are needed to attract and hold readers’ attention. Perhaps most importantly for Lifespan’s audience, their 90 minute argument elicits many cathartic chuckles.
The well crafted material hits the intended target in large part because of the wise direction of Leigh Silverman. She has a keen instinct for when to punch up the humor without going too broad. Rather, she peels back the layers of each of the three characters in slowly building rhythm. She has the great advantage of being blessed with a magnificent cast, each of whom has an incredible sense of pace and timing. Charmingly obsessive in his role of fact checker Jim Fingal, Daniel Radcliffe is physically taut and verbally cranked to 11. He prepared for the role by actually working as a fact checker for New Yorker magazine, which clearly gave him a strong foundation on which to draw character details. His opponent in the battle of wits, writer John D’Agata, is bought to irritated life by a blustery and brilliant Bobby Cannavale. That the two actors are nearly a foot apart in height adds a shiny layer of physical humor on top of their perfectly orchestrated banter. Standing between them with a commanding hand and a touch of grace is the charismatic Cherry Jones as the magazine’s editor, Emily.
Many hands add their own magical touch to bringing out the best in the piece. Mimi Lien’s scenic design includes some smile-inducing details. Linda Cho’s costumes give good visual cues. The playwrights have raised the stakes by putting their characters on a four day deadline. Projections by Lucy Mackinnon and music and sound by Palmer Hefferan keep us on edge as the clock ticks stressfully onwards towards publication day.
Suitable for teens and up, The Lifespan of a Fact brings much needed smart laughter to Broadway’s fall season. Though the ending may be unsatisfying to some, the overall experience is everything you want from an afternoon or evening at the theater. It is playing at Studio 54, which has particularly good sight lines. Tickets for performances through January 13, 2019 are for sale at https://www.lifespanofafact.com and on most entertainment apps. A limited number of affordable $40 seats are available for purchase in-person at the Studio 54 box office for same-day sale.