Kiss Me, Kate, Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre. Friends who saw director Michael Blakemore’s 1999 Broadway revival of this classic 1948 musical assure me it was a delight, but the touring edition is a disgrace. Inspired by the backstage bickering of husband-and-wife team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Kiss Me, Kate concerns Lilli and Fred, a temperamental diva and her egotistical ex-spouse whose offstage battles counterpoint the onstage action in a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew.
Sam and Bella Spewack’s somewhat dated script has been goosed with forgettable new gags in an effort to recall the postwar slam-bang Looney Tunes era. But what really suffers here is Cole Porter’s witty, sophisticated score. As Fred and Lilli, Rex Smith and Rachel York bellow and screech their way through the material, obscuring the rich melodies and ingenious lyrics with their mugging and rushed tempos; and great chorus numbers like “Too Darn Hot” and “Another Op’nin’ Another Show” are mangled in busy, tasteless new orchestral arrangements under Paul Gemignani’s musical direction.
Richard Poe and Michael Arkin as mobsters trying to collect a gambling debt win the audience with their surefire comedy number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” And Martin Pakledinaz’s wonderfully colorful costumes evoke with equal flair 40s America and Renaissance Italy. But as for the rest of the show: when it isn’t The Shrew they’re taming, it’s Porter’s tunes they’re maiming.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.