Without a bona fide star role like Lilli, though, you might be hard-pressed to put up with some of the hoarier aspects of "Kiss Me, Kate's" sexual politics, in Sam and Bella Spewack's book. But Lilli's backbone, bolstered through the nimble tweaking of play doctor Green, serves to keep the cringe factor at bay. There is that creamy O'Hara coloratura, too, to sing us all into happy submission and apply to this revival an apropos adjective: unmissable.
KISS ME, KATE Broadway Reviews
Roundabout Theatre Company presents the new Broadway production of the musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, starring Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara, opening tonight!
Roundabout welcomes back Tony winner O'Hara who was nominated for her role in the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game opposite Harry Connick, Jr. In 2016, O'Hara participated in a sold-out benefit concert reading of Kiss Me, Kate also directed by Scott Ellis.
In the constellation of musical comedy masterpieces, Kiss Me, Kate shines as perhaps Broadway's most sparkling achievement. This is the winner of the first-ever Tony Award for Best Musical, alive with onstage romance, backstage passion, comedy high and low, a hilarious dash of Shakespeare's Shrew, and the songwriting genius of Cole Porter at his stylish, sexy, sophisticated best, including "Too Darn Hot," "So In Love" and "Always True To You In My Fashion."
On Broadway, I just saw my first ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’ It was worth the wait.
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Those spats usually bring Kiss Me, Kate some of its biggest laughs - and thankfully, that remains the same here. It helps that Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody, Bring It On The Musical) has provided some tweaks to Sam and Bella Spewack's book, which responsibly eliminate some of the nastier verbal insults to level the playing field a bit. The delightful Chase has embraced some of Fred's goofiness, too, and he and O'Hara play off one another perfectly.
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For me, the production takes full flight with "I Hate Men," about midway through the first act, when O'Hara (as Lilli as Shrew's Kate) delivers a full throated and beautifully arch takedown of what later generations would simply call patriarchy. "Kate" delivers this song with utter conviction - no sense of the I'm just a silly girl spouting off that earlier productions might have presented.
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The most recognizable change (aside from the elimination of the onstage moment when a fed-up Fred takes Lilli over his knee and spanks her) comes in the final scene, which, in 1948, Porter and the Spewacks lifted directly from the original. Petruchio's command that Katherine, "tell these headstrong women what duty they do owe their husbands," has been altered to "tell these headstrong lovers what duty they owe their mates." Her response, "I am ashamed that women are so simple," is now "I am ashamed that people are so simple," and the fellow no longer calls her a wench before they embrace.
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Gender-parity achieved, yes? No. As laudable as these efforts are, Lilli still performs against her will, thanks to a subplot about debt-collecting goons. And several songs are steeped in pervy references, including a "Tom, Dick or Harry" whose emphasis lies firmly on Dick.
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Scott Ellis can be credited with keeping his two leads playing from the same slightly jaded Valentine's Day poem. He wisely keeps the more manic comedy to the show's secondary couple, Lois Lane and her boyfriend, Bill Calhoun. Playing that chronic cuckold, "High School Musical" and "Dancing With the Stars" alum Corbin Bleu leads a spectacularly danced "Too Darn Hot," with choreographer Warren Carlyle in top form.
Without such changes, however, Kiss Me, Kate might not be revivable at all-and that would be a shame, since the Roundabout's production is often a delight. For one thing, it affords an opportunity to rehear Porter's score, which lists heavily toward witty-silly list songs but also includes the beautifully pining "So in Love" and the acidic "I Hate Men." And whatever heat has been tamped down in the central couple flares up elsewhere-most exuberantly, and appropriately, in the second-act opener, "Too Darn Hot," a pull-out-the-stops ensemble dance number that all but burns down the house.
Theater Review: "Kiss Me, Kate"
The Roundabout Theatre's big, boisterous, brawling "Kiss Me, Kate" is a revival to fall for. It stars Kelli O'Hara who lights up the stage with her incomparable talents. No surprise there, but the big revelation in this production is the way the creative team managed to solve the show's inherent sexism. Based on Shakespeare's "Taming Of the Shrew," the idea that any woman needs taming is problematic. But here thanks to some subtle tweaks and re-staging, it's the story that's getting tamed without losing any of its ferocious bite!
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Above all, it's acted and staged with consummate style and grace. O'Hara's angelic soprano navigates the quasi-bel-canto passages Cole Porter wrote for Lilli, not to mention salty comic numbers such as "I Hate Men." Chase exudes the perfect oily charm and exasperated panic as the actor-producer who finds his show coming apart at the seams, as well as decency under the bluster and swagger. Charming Corbin Bleu returns to Studio 54 (after his scene-stealing turn in the otherwise bland Holiday Inn) as hoofer and inveterate gambler Bill Calhoun, and his tap routines are sensational. Overall, choreographer Warren Carlyle's routines are spectacular, performed by a winning ensemble under veteran music-maker Paul Gemignani's flawless baton. I had to check my program twice to confirm that Styles is making her Broadway debut; the petite comic powerhouse is poised to join the lineage of Peters, Chenoweth and Ashford.
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Purists may squawk - though similar changes have long since shown up in feminist productions of "The Taming of the Shrew." For me, the adjustments, especially Ms. Green's and Ms. O'Hara's, are completely successful. They not only reorient the story as a warning to all sexes, but also provide a workaround for a musical that our cancel culture seemed ready to throw on the bonfire of the inanities. How nice to find "Kiss Me, Kate" rescued from that fate: still speaking to us - or better yet, singing - from the not so buried past.
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If the changes dampen some of the show's comedic vitality in order to make it palatable to contemporary sensibilities, so be it. There are corresponding losses and gains, too, in O'Hara's performance. One of America's most incandescent musical-theater stars, her default setting is elegance and sincerity, so the soupcon of campy self-intoxication that seems a requirement of the role is largely missing. This is not the harrumphing hysteric that audiences familiar with the show will remember.
Broadway Review: ‘Kiss Me, Kate’
Director Scott Ellis' production doesn't try to make much sense of a narrative that includes Damon Runyon-style gangsters in a far-fetched subplot, and instead sticks with a playful spirit in the hopes that audiences will ride out the nonsense as long as the show delivers on entertainment. And it often does, especially when it dances to Warren Carlyle's choreography, whether it's in the frisky "Tom, Dick or Harry" or in the sizzling Act 2 opener "Too Darn Hot," featuring Corbin Bleu and James T. Lane in impressive solo turns.
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The sparkling revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway (at Studio 54, through June 2) is glorious to watch, a sumptuous treat. But whatever gender controversies the musical, originally mounted in 1948, once provoked, whatever issues it raised about male control and female compliance, have been cheerfully erased.
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The show stars Broadway divinity Kelli O'Hara, who endows whatever musical role she's playing with coloratura splendor. Muscularly directed by Scott Ellis, the production showcases Warren Carlyle's exhilarating choreography, which looks ready to compete in a new category at the next Summer Olympics, with tap-dancing Corbin Bleu in line for a gold medal.
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Right from the opening number, you can see where Ellis is going with what turns out to be a very pleasurable and inclusive evening in the company of a plethora of seasoned professionals whether that's the great Paul Gemignani conducting the orchestra occupying the boxes on either side of the stage at Studio 54, or choreographer Warren Carlyle's clutch of seasoned hoofers with senses of humor to match their agility.
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Although "Kiss Me, Kate" moves at a frolicsome pace under Ellis's direction, on sets by David Rockwell that move between period-style flats for the "Shrew" scenes and realistic designs for the play-without-the-play passages, there's no avoiding that the book, by Sam and Bella Spewack, loses steam in the second act (even with the interpolated "From This Moment On"), which plays out more as a series of jumbled diversions before the romantic-clinch climax.
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All of which feels just ... fine. What's interesting about this Kiss Me, Kate's context consciousness is that its adjustments are both good, arguably downright necessary ideas, and not really show-savers. I'm happy not to listen to O'Hara sing about placing her hand beneath her husband's foot, but the subtle level-up in gender politics at the show's conclusion doesn't actually stop the whole thing from feeling like an aesthetic time capsule. And aesthetics can usurp politics.
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Would that it were even half as good, but this "Kiss Me, Kate" is bland and unimaginative. Not only is Ms. O'Hara miscast-she is as warm and friendly as Kate is sharp-witted and spiky-but she and Mr. Chase have all the romantic chemistry of a pair of squabbling siblings. As for Mr. Ellis's staging, it looks as though he'd put the show together while thinking about something else.
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But speaking as someone who has attended many prior productions and is well familiar with its numerous audio and video recordings (including the overblown 1953 MGM film and a 1958 TV adaptation with the original leads Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison), the Roundabout's "Kiss Me, Kate" (directed by Roundabout veteran Scott Ellis) strikes me as an unnecessary, underwhelming and miscast revival.
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Without much in the way of energy or chemistry between them, the seams of this show's occasionally slipshod construction are more apparent than usual. The act two curtain raiser, the alternately breathy and breathless dance number "Too Darn Hot," is certainly arresting (the choreography here is by Warren Carlyle) - so much so that you start to dwell on the fact that, dramatically, the number has no real reason to exist within the story. Despite the visually impressive set (designed by David Rockwell), featuring a multi-tiered backstage where most of the action takes place, there's also no disguising that the story doesn't travel very far, physically or emotionally.
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