Directors of Shakespeare’s ostensiby problematic comedy The Taming of the Shrew have long found ambiguity in that taming—recently, for example, Ann Arbis mounted a “post-feminist” revival that hewed to a more equitable vision Kate and Petruchio’s power dynamic. It is no surprise, then, that Kiss Me, Kate should soon follow suit. This delightful Cole Porter and Bella Spewack musical pits two famous actors against one another backstage as they woo one another onstage in a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Notoriously, however, near the end of act one, Lilli (Kelli O’Hara) finds out that the flowers she received from Fred (Will Chase) were really meant for Lois (Stephanie Styles), a young actress in the cast. Lilli storms onstage and begins hitting Fred; he responds by gleefully administering a spanking. But unlike, say, Carousel, this violence is not integral to the show. The production wisely tames it—the result is more even-handed, less humiliating, and vaudevillian—and what remains is a fully enjoyable comedy of manners in the style of Noël Coward.
It helps that the production is first-rate from top to bottom. O’Hara’s voice is robust and clear as glass, while Chase’s performance in the play-within-a-play is so merry and effortless that I’d like to see him tackle Petruchio next; imagine Errol Flynn if he were fluent in Shakespeare’s language. As led by Corbin Bleu, “Too Darn Hot” is the standout number, despite is complete irrelevance to the plot. Perhaps this smoke-break-from-the-central-drama quality adds to its charm. In any case, Kiss Me, Kate is proof that despite the endless movie adaptations and half-hearted jukebox musicals, Broadway does not have to be a bastion of expensive disappointments.
Kiss Me, Kate runs through June 2nd at Studio 54. 254 W. 54th Street New York, NY. 2 hours 35 minutes. One intermission.