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Fred and Lilly are a divorced pair of actors who are brought together by Cole Porter who has written a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Of course, the couple seem to act a great deal like the characters they play. A fight on the opening night threatens the production, as well as two thugs who have the mistaken idea that Fred owes their boss money and insist on staying next to him all night. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Though some would now argue for A Chorus Line, I believe that Kiss Me Kate is the greatest of backstage musical stories. That's because when Cole Porter took a collaborator, he took the best, the Poet that keeps 'em ravin', the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon.
When Porter was approached to collaborate with Samuel and Bella Spewack about doing a show based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, he had hit a dry spell creatively. He had not had a decent Broadway hit in several years and according to the George Eells biography of him, was pretty tense throughout the gestation period. He also did not have the best of relations with the Spewacks. It was all forgotten when Kiss Me Kate had the biggest Broadway run of any of his show, 1077 performances and probably yielded more hit songs for him than any other production. It missed getting the Tony Award for Best Musical by another show that opened that season, South Pacific.
Most of that score remained intact for the MGM musical. One additional one from Porter's succeeding Broadway musical, Out of this World was added as a number for Tommy Rall, Bob Fosse, and Bobby Van, From This Moment On. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson as the leads sing the classic Porter hits, So In Love and Wunderbar with gusto and feeling.
Kiss Me Kate is one of the most difficult of musicals to act because you have to be good enough to act two roles simultaneously. The players have to be able to keep their backstage personas as they are speaking the lines from The Taming of the Shrew and have to do that convincingly also. Which is why I consider Kiss Me Kate one of the greatest of the Arthur Freed musicals.
The backstage story is nothing new. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson were once married to each other and are still So In Love, but she doesn't realize it. Keel has cast her in this musical adaption he's also directing of The Taming of the Shrew. Their story is worked rather nicely into the opening night of the production. Also the story of flirtatious Ann Miller and Tommy Rall who's incurred a gambling debt to some gangsters also gets worked into opening night. Rall signs Keel's name to an IOU and Keel who thinks fast on his feet uses that bit of deception to his own advantage.
Which brings me to those two lovable torpedoes, Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, who get into the play and later get to sing one of Cole Porter's best satirical numbers and a personal favorite of mine, Brush Up Your Shakespeare. It's their own ode to their theatrical experience and also advice to the lovelorn that if you want to win the mate of your choice, learn the classics so you can wow them with rhetoric. Wynn and Whitmore are priceless. I also remember years ago Orson Welles was the guest star on a Dean Martin show and Welles and Dino did a pretty hilarious version of this song.
Of course it being a Cole Porter show, the more risqué lines of the lyrics are censored somewhat. Check both the original Broadway cast album and the album MGM did from the film and see what I mean.
I do so love this show and this film. It was originally done in 3-D and ought to be seen that way in a theater if possible.
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