The Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate is the show that came to symbolise the resilience of New York theatre after the 11 September terrorist attacks almost closed it. Now imported to London, it's being held up as the show
to restore sorely lacking confidence to the West End. But not only are our circumstances markedly different here to New York, it's also a little disappointing
that support is so vigorously forthcoming for an old 1948 Broadway warhorse
like this, even as new shows - the revivals of the future - are neglected.
While, too, this production marked Broadway's first revival of one of its
all-time classics, there's another point to make before I get off my soapbox
and just get on with enjoying it, and that's to point out that Kiss Me Kate is far from unfamiliar to us here, what with two admirable London revivals in the last decade and a half alone (care of the RSC and the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park).
This time out, it gets the best production yet that goes to confirm its well-earned popularity. All kinds of bad behaviour, of course, are fair in love when it comes to people working in the theatre. Here, the backstage relationship of Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham are reflected in the onstage ones of the characters
of Kate and Petruchio that they are playing in a Baltimore musical version
of The Taming of the Shrew. In the process, Sam and Bella Spewack's book deliciously deflates the charges of sexism that have otherwise become attached to
Accompanying the aggro and antics, Cole Porter's blissful melodies, replete with their effervescently literate and witty lyrics, make Kiss Me Kate one of the most enjoyable of all backstage musicals. And as lovingly packaged by director Michael Blakemore, this is a meticulously recreated example of the Golden Age of Broadway.
But best of all is the decision to import its four principals from
America, to give this London production a real, authentic touch of Broadway at its best. Two of these stars originated the show on Broadway: Marin Mazzie as Lilli, with an
expansive and gorgeous operatic soprano that recalls a different era
altogether; and the
athletically agile Michael Beresse as Bill Calhoun, whose feet (and feats)
have to be seen to be believed. Joining them are Nancy Anderson, like a
younger version of Bernadette Peters as the soubrette Lois Lane; and the
solidly old-fashioned leading man of Brent Barrett as Fred.
I love Kiss Me Kate for what it is and highly recommend it. But let's not get too carried away - what it isn't is the saviour of the West End.