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.