By: Paulanne Simmons
March 31, 2019: If Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, with its misogynistic undertones, is sometimes hard to swallow. Cole Porter, and Samuel and Bella Spewack’s Kiss Me Kate goes down easy. This is especially true for Roundabout’s new revival directed by Scott Ellis.
The musical stars the effervescent Kelli O’Hara as Lilli Vanessi, the actress who is playing the female lead in Fred Graham’s new production of Shakespeare’s play. Will Chase is the charming, not too obnoxious Fred Graham, the show’s producer, director, star and – here’s the rub – Lilli’s former husband.
However, if onstage Petruchio is doing the taming, it soon becomes apparent that behind the scenes, it’s really Lilli who’s in charge. We know that if and when these two get back together, it will be on Lilli’s terms. In the age of #Me Too, that may be the only way this show can be interpreted.
The secondary lovers, Lois Lane (Stephanie Styles), who plays Bianca in Taming of the Shrew, and Bill Calhoun (Corbin Bleu), who plays Lucentio, are more traditional. Neither one is a perfect lover, but they are true to each other in their fashion.
Kiss Me Kate is also blessed with the choreography of Warren Carlyle. His ingenuity is especially apparent in showstoppers like the deliciously titillating “Tom, Dick, or Harry,” the sizzling “Too Darn Hot” and “Bianca,” which features moves worthy of Fred Astaire or the Nicholas Brothers.
And David Rockwell has provided a set that gives the audience an equally enticing framework for the drama onstage and backstage.
If the show takes a misstep it’s in the subplot of the two gangsters who are trying to collect a gambling debt from Fred, thanks to an IOU Bill signed with Fred’s name. The gangsters are played by John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams, two actors who seem to have little talent or preparation for musical comedy. Their “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is indeed a showstopper, but in all the wrong ways.
Nevertheless, this Kiss Me Kate is overwhelmingly successful and is worthy of taking its place among the finest productions that have been staged since the show premiered in 1948.
Kiss Me Kate runs through June 30, 2019 at Studio 54, 254 West 54 Street.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.
Photography: Joan Marcus