George Bernard Shaw once called Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew “one vile insult to womanhood and manhood”—and with reason. The main plot concerns a boorish opportunist (Petruchio) who woos and wins a strong-willed woman (Kate) by breaking her with gaslighting and, after they marry, intimidation and starvation. The subplot, involving a sneaky suitor who fools a controlling father into letting him court and marry Kate’s beautiful younger sister, is contrived and confusing. To make this material work, you need a shrewd director—and a terrific cast.
This world-premiere musical version of Shrew at First Folio eliminates most of what makes the original so provoking but also what makes it interesting. David Rice and Lydia Hiller’s adaptation swaps whole scenes for lots of limp, forgettable songs, written by Rice, Hiller, and Christopher Kriz in the style of 30s and 40s musicals. (The show is set in Chicago in the 1930s.) They also make Kate and Petruchio considerably more likable. She isn’t really a shrew, just a little peevish. And Petruchio’s courtship style is considerably more conventional and kind (instead of starving her, he brings her boxes of chocolates). Director Johanna McKenzie Miller’s casting further rehabilitates these two; Christopher W. Jones’s Petruchio is, in fact, so likable and suave he seems like he wandered in from another play.
The show itself is intermittently charming. Some of Shakespeare’s best lines are preserved—and Miller’s sprightly direction and Ericka Mac’s choreography keep things moving. Clocking in at a little more than two hours with intermission, Shrew’d! is over before you know it. v