BWW Album Review: So In Love (Mostly) with KISS ME KATE's Revival Cast Album
It's another op'nin' of another version of Kiss Me, Kate, the iconic Cole Porter musical that adds a sassy, meta-theatrical, mid-century twist to Shakespeare's battle of the sexes The Taming of the Shrew. With an all-star cast, the cast recording of Roundabout's latest revival has little in the way of surprise or novelty, but plenty of talent along the way.
Kiss Me, Kate rests heavily on the shoulders of its leading duo. Here, Tony winner Kelli O'Hara stars as Lilli opposite Will Chase as Fred. For the most part, O'Hara shines, as expected. Any role that lets her sing in her glorious soprano is a good thing; hearing her voice on classics like "So In Love" is a real treat. Although she doesn't quite imbue her voice with as much comedy and character in the "rougher" songs like "I Hate Men," her ridiculous (in a very good way) run in the Act 1 finale version of "Kiss Me Kate" is utterly spectacular.
As her leading man, Chase fares more unevenly. When he first makes an appearance in "Wunderbar," his lower range and faux-classical sound is surprisingly robust for a man who's made his living in rock- and country-tinged roles for most of his career. But when it comes to the songs for the show-within-the-show, he fares less well. "Were Thine That Special Face" is perfectly lovely, but "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" are both missing some of the depth and oomph that a Fred really needs. Luckily, by the end, with "So In Love (Reprise)," we're back to music that sits nicely in his range.
In terms of supporting cast, though, the secondary couple of Lois and Bill is perfectly cast with Stephanie Styles and Corbin Bleu. Styles finds a pitch-perfect voice for Lois starting with "Why Can't You Behave?", with just the right twang; she's a soubrette for the modern age. Her showstopper, of course, is "Always True to You in My Fashion," and she hits every note, perfectly in comic character. And with the help of Bleu, Will Burton, and Rick Faugno, she holds the sharp quartet of "Tom, Dick, or Harry" together. It can be tough to play a character like Lois without verging into parody, but Styles manages it and them some.
If you still think of Bleu as "that guy from High School Musical," now would be a good time to rethink that. He was a bright spot in the sweet-but-mediocre 2016 Holiday Inn adaptation, playing the Fred Astaire role, and here he steps into the role of another scene-stealing hoofer. Where Styles grabs attention with comic timing, Bleu does it with charisma. He's no belter, but his smooth, almost casual vocals on songs like "Bianca" help make it pretty clear that, somewhere along the line, he became the low-key successor to the song-and-dance men of Hollywood past.
Some of Kiss Me Kate's most iconic songs belong to their ensemble, and the jazzy, well-harmonized arrangements of "Another Op'nin, Another Show" and "Too Darn Hot" should satisfy all the Golden Age fans. Unfortunately, some of the music just isn't that impactful out of the show; songs like "We Open in Venice" just sort of sit there on the album. And where "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" should be a showstopper, it's missing just a hint of the energy and quirk that it needs to really stand out.
Kiss Me, Kate really is Porter's paean to (and light ribbing of) showbiz, and the current cast recording captures a revival full of flair, if not innovation. It's a snazzy reminder of the joys of Golden Age musicals and a reminder of the phenomenal talent we've still got on our stages today.