Kiss Me, Kate is a musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The story involves the production of a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and the conflict on and off-stage between Fred Graham, the show’s director, producer, and star, and his leading lady, his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. A secondary romance concerns Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill, who runs afoul with some gangsters. The original production starred Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang and won the Tony-Award.
Kiss Me, Kate was Porter’s response to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and other integrated musicals; it was the first show he wrote in which the music and lyrics were firmly connected to the script, and it proved to be his biggest hit and the only one of his shows to run for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway. In 1949, it won the first Tony Award presented for Best Musical.
After a 3½-week pre-Broadway tryout at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia starting December 2, 1948, the original Broadway production opened on December 30, 1948, at the New Century Theatre, where it ran for nineteen months before transferring to the Shubert, for a total run of 1,077 performances. Directed by John C. Wilson with choreography by Hanya Holm, the original cast included Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk, Harold Lang, Charles Wood and Harry Clark.
Original frontcover from 1949
The idea for Kiss Me, Kate was planted in the mind of producer Saint Subber in 1935. While working as a stagehand for the Theatre Guild’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, Subber noticed that the stars of the show, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, had a backstage relationship that was almost as tempestuous as the one they had onstage while portraying Shakespeare’s famous quarelling couple.
Although veteran comedy writers Samuel and Bella Spewack had been separated for some time, they reunited to write the libretto for Kiss Me, Kate, and after the production, they chose to stay together permanently. Their libretto creates a play-within-a-play that follows the lives of egotistical actor-producer Fred Graham and his temperamental co-star and ex-wife, Lili Vanessi in a production of, you guessed it, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Cole Porter’s brilliant score borrows freely from Shakespeare’s dialogue for lyrics in the musical numbers that take place “onstage” but makes use of more modern syntax in the “backstage” numbers.
Kiss Me, Kate opened at the New Century Theatre on December 30, 1948, with Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison in the lead roles. The production went on to win 5 Tony Awards including “Best Musical,” “Best Script” and “Best Score” before closing on July 28, 1951 after 1,070 performances. The show was then remounted at the London Coliseum on March 8, 1951 and ran for another 400 performances
Alfred Drake (Fred Graham, Petruchio); Patricia Morrison (Lilli Vanessi, Katharine); Lisa Kirk (Lois Lane, Bianca); Harold Lang (Bill Calhoun, Lucentio); Thomas Holer (Harry Trevor, Baptista); Don Mayo (Ralph); Annabelle Hill (Hattie); Lorenzo Fuller (Paul); Harry Clark (First Man); Jack Diamond (Second Man); Bill Lilling (Stage Doorman); Denis Green (Harrison Howell); Edwin Clay (Gremio); Charles Wood (Hortensio); John Castello (Haberdasher); Marc Breaux (Tailor)
Orchestra conducted by Pembroke Davenport
Original playbill from 1949
The original Broadway version from 1949:
01. Overture 2.42
02. Another Op’nin’ Another Show 1.45
03. Why Can’t You Behave? 3.00
04. Wunderbar 3.39
05. So In Love 3.38
06. We Open In Venice 2.02
07. Tom, Dick Or Harry 2.08
08. I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua 2.14
09. I Hate Men 2.15
10. Were Thine That Special Face 4.14
11. Too Darn Hot 3.37
12. Where Is the Life That Late I Led? 4.26
13. Always True To You (In My Fashion) 4.01
14. Bianca 2.10
15. So In Love 2.15
16. Brush Up Your Shakespeare 1.43
17. I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple 1.52
18. Finale 0.48
The Original London version from 1951:
19. Why Can’t You Behave? 2.52
20. Wunderbar 3.01
21. So In Love 2.28
22. I Hate Men 3.18
23. Were Thine That Special Face 3.41
24. Always True To You (In My Fashion) 2.59
25. Where Is The Life That Late I Led? 4.23
26. Brush Up Your Shakespeare 4.10
Words and music written by Cole Porter
Cole Porter during the recording sessions, 1949