Kiss Me, Kate
The Taming of the Shrew has always been one of the most enigmatic of the Shakespearean dramas, for the Bard, whoever he really was, has an otherwise impeccable record in creating both strong and sympathetic females characters. If the battle of the sexes in the piece is played at all realistically, the play usually fails under the weight of chauvinism. However, when the play is produced as a farce everything works, as long as the direction for the final scene succeeds in putting Katharine and Petruchio on even ground.
In adapting this play as a musical called Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter adds a few wrinkles of his own to the mix. The latest New York revival of this classic comedy is now running at the Buell Theatre. Director Michael Blakemore, who directed the Broadway and current road show version gets it mostly right, thus achieving a polished, but ultimately unsatisfying production.
Blakemore, who became the first director in Broadway history to win Tony's for both play direction (Copenhagen) and musical direction (Kiss Me, Kate) in the same year, has certainly chosen a stellar cast and gets a lot out of them. Rex Smith is a convincing combination of manliness, idiocy, and impassioned musicality to create a Petruchio large enough to balance the wild, volatile, and soaring Kate of songstress Rachel York. Smith and York carve an appealing duet in Porter favorite Wunderbar; Smith is sublime in So In Love; and York rocks with her anthem I Hate Men. Voluptuous Jenny Hill nearly steals the show from them with Bianca's lusty Always True to You (In My Fashion) and Why Can't You Behave? Kathleen Marshall's choreography gets high marks, especially the steamy It's Too Darn Hot. Richard Poe and Michael Arkin, as the two thugs, win the crowd over with their duet and soft-shoe to Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
One of the villains in this production is the size and acoustics of the Buell itself. The auditorium has never gotten high marks for its natural amplification, and the low electronic sound levels adhered to by the technical crew for both the talent and the orchestra creates a diffusive gulf between most of the audience and the players. In addition, some of the directorial choices lack sense. The subtext between Smith and York that sets up the ending is completely invisible to most of the audience, leaving us unprepared when Katharine shows up in the last scene. Without a song from Kate telling us how she is torn, and no binoculars to see if she is emoting this, we are left without a clue as to her deep feelings and her apparently sudden change of heart, and robbed of a catharsis. Finally, York is directed to play her song I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple straight, with no physical indications that she feels otherwise. At least Blackmore gets the final tableau right with Petruchio's honoring kneel and Kate's mischievous wink.
The Tony Award winning revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate runs at the Buell Theatre through January 5th. 303-893-4100.