Kiss Me, Kate
Words: Cole Porter
Music: Cole Porter
Written in: Authored Date: , New Century Theatre, New York

The show takes place immediately before and during the first performance of a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.

The Producer and leading man Fred Graham (Petruchio), and his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Katharine, although divorced, are still in love, but carry on their backstage quarrels in a way that parallels the 'romance' of the leading characters in The Shrew.

Lilli suspects that Fred is having an affair with Lois Lane (Bianca), a promising young actress, but Lois is really in love with Bill Calhoun (Lucentio).

Bill, an incorrigible gambler, signs Fred's name to a $10,000 I.O.U for gambling debts and, as a result, two gangsters arrive in Fred's dressing room to demand payment of the debt. Fred knows nothing of the debt, but as Lilli has threatened to leave the show, he agrees to pay the I.O.U out of the profits of the show if the gangsters can 'persuade' Lilli to stay until the end of the week.

The gangsters agree, but will the romantic differences between Lill and Fred be settled in the same amicable way as those of Katherine and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew?


The Background to Kiss me, Kate

In 1935 Arnold Saint Subber, a Broadway stage manager, overheard Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne having a vehement argument backstage whilst appearing in The Taming of the Shrew. The fact that this husband and wife acting team should be duplicating the romantic squabbles of the play itself was such a coincidence that Subber hit on the idea of creating a musical, complete with extracts from the original Shakespeare play.

Years later Subber presented his idea to the writer Bella Spewack, who responded by writing the outline script for the play within a play in six weeks. When Cole Porter was asked to write the score he made many excuses for not wanting to take on the task. He said the piece was not suitable for his style, that Shakespeare was too highbrow for Broadway, and that he had reservations as to the play's commercial viability. More likely, however, was the fact that Porter felt himself to be out of touch with the musical scene in the 1940's. He had not had a hit since Anything Goes in 1934, and his was the old style of musical comedy in which a loose plot was woven round a collection of great songs. New and succesful shows like Oklahoma were based on a strong story with drama and song closely interwoven.

Despite all his reservations, Porter finally succumbed to Bella Spewack's persistent requests and agreed to write the score. His decision may have been influenced by discovering that Alfred Drake, the star of Oklahoma had been proposed for the part of Fred Graham.

Once the decision had been made, Cole Porter warmed to his task and the score was soon written. He was moved by the central romantic relationship between Lilli and Fred, and the play within a play offered him scope for an extended range of music.

The first performance of Kiss me, Kate was given at the New Century Theatre in New York on 30th December 1948. Arnold Saint Subber, whose original idea had eventually come to fruition, was joint Producer with Lemuel Ayers. The show was directed by John C.Wilson, and starred Alfred Drake as Fred Graham, Patricia Morison as Lilli Vanessi, and Lisa Kirk as Lois Lane.

The original production of Kiss me, Kate ran for 1077 performances, and for the 1948/49 season won Tonys for Best Musical Production, Best Book, and Best Score. When Kiss me, Kate opened at London's Coliseum Theatre in March 1951, the only original cast member was Patricia Morison, and one of the gangsters was comedian Sid James.

In 1953, Metro-Goldwin-Mayer produced the film of the show with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller as the stars. Since then Kiss me, Kate has surely been staged in most countries of the world.

Book by Bella & Samuel Spewack
Kiss Me, Kate, March 2000, Nuffield Theatre

 Sister Act poster

Sister Act

30th January - 2nd February 2019, NST Campus (Nuffield Theatre), Southampton

Performances 7:30pm. Saturday Matinee 2:30pm. Tickets: From £10

Family and group discounts available

Box Office: 023 8067 1771 or purchase online