Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, vets of Ragtime, will lead the company as former spouses who are performing -- and sparring -- in a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Michael Blakemore (City of Angels, The Life) directs, Kathleen Marshall (Encores!) choreographs.
Roger Berlind and Roger Horchow are producing the musical, which hasn't seen a Broadway production since the original, in 1948. The classic score, considered Porter's finest and most dramatically integrated, is studded with now-standard tunes such as "So in Love," "Wunderbar," "Why Can't You Behave?," "Always True to You (in My Fashion)," "Too Darn Hot" and more.
The musical has been slightly revised since 1948. The character of Harrison Howell, fashioned after political consultant Bernard Baruch, has been reconceived as a military officer, Gen. Harrison Howell. Ron Holgate (of the original 1776) plays the role, and gets to sing an interpolated song, "From This Moment On," with Mazzie.
Official opening for Kiss Me, Kate is Nov. 18. *
The company of Kiss Me, Kate sang, danced and schmoozed for the press at an "open rehearsal" in Manhattan Oct. 7. Here are the highlights of the rehearsal-studio glimpse of Kiss Me, Kate:
• Mazzie and Mitchell, playing Lilli and Fred, a feuding, formerly married acting couple putting on a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew (in the roles of Kate and Petruchio), sang "So in Love" (Mazzie) and "I've Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua" (Mitchell). Musical director Paul Gemignani (a veteran of Sondheim's shows) conducted the piano-and percussion combo and the singers.
• Amy Spanger (Chicago national tour Roxie) and Michael Berresse (Chicago tour and Broadway's Fascinating Rhythm), playing Lois and Bill (and also Lucentio and Bianca in the show-within the-show), sang and danced "Tom, Dick or Harry," with Darren Lee and Kevin Neil McCready. Marshall created the slinky, aggressive dances, in which the Elizabethan characters pitch woo.
• Stanley Wayne Mathis, who plays Mitchell's backstage dresser, and the ensemble burst into "Too Darn Hot," explosively displaying choreographer Marshall's feverish imagination.
• Director Blakemore explained the oft-told story that Kiss Me, Kate had its origins in real life: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the married acting icons, were in a production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Blakemore said, and "the rows back stage were quite the equal of anything happening on stage between Petruchio and Kate." Cole Porter and book writers Sam and Bella Spewack borrowed the conflict for the basis of the musical, Blakemore said.
• Lois Elias, who represents the estate of Sam and Bella Spewack, was also on hand and told Playbill On-Line the Lunt-Fontanne origin of the musical is not real, but apocryphal: The back stage conflict plot was purely from the imagination of the Spewacks. Kiss Me, Kate's original producer, Arnold Saint-Subber, went on record years ago with the Lunt-Fontanne link, but Elias said the Spewacks denied it and lamented the yarn's proliferation. The Lunt-Fontanne angle, having the tang and juice of gossip, stuck.
• At any rate, Blakemore said, "It is a very brilliant idea: It's a back stage story in which the subplot is an ingeniously filleted version of a Shakespeare play. The great advantage of this is, it allows all the talents to demonstrate two aspects of their gifts: There is the music that accompanies the Shakespeare, and the music that accompanies the back stage activities. The actors can also show two sides: They have the Shakespeare to play, and they have the backstage scenes."
• Blakemore and others confirmed that the character of Harrison Howell, boyfriend of Lilli Vanessi, has been rewritten by an unnamed author (likely John Guare) and that Ron Holgate and Mazzie will sing "From This Moment On," cut from Porter's Out of This World (1950), but performed in the 1953 film version of Kate. The song will include the obscure flirty patter material ("my ducky, my wucky, my poopsy, my woopsy"), not known to a wide audience before its Encores! concert performance and recording (sung by Mazzie, coincidentally).
• Elias, who protects the Spewacks' works with her husband, Arthur, said they requested the revision of the Harrison character, who is now a chauvinistic military man instead of a government advisor. The role was originally patterned after American industrial and economic advisor Bernard Baruch (1870-1965), who is less known to audiences today.
• Co-producer Roger Horchow once said he would never produce another show, but became convinced he should produce Kate partly because, after doing research about Porter's days at Yale, it was discovered that Horchow's father (Yale class of 1916) had lived in the same room, 31 Vanderbilt, that Porter (class of 1913) once occupied. "The signs were right," Horchow said. Strangely, Horchow's Yalie brother-in law also occupied that room, in later years. "That was what turned the corner, so I called [co-producer] Roger [Berlind] and said yes," he said. When Horchow himself attended Yale in the late 1940s, he and his roommates came into New York to see Kiss Me, Kate several times, and wore out the multi-set cast albums.
• Mazzie, one of Broadway's foremost legit soprano-belters, never played the role of Lilli in stock or school. She said it was a role to grow into: "I knew some of the songs, but it wasn't a score that I listened to when I was younger. I think when I was really young I listened to 'Wunderbar' and sounded so opera-y that I didn't listen to the rest of the album. But the score is so amazing: The numbers keep coming. It is great to sing 'So in Love,' 'I Hate Men,' 'I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple.'"
Exploiting the aggressive nature of the lead roles, the ad campaign has a boxing theme, with a traditional-style sepia boxing poster that cries, "The Season's Main Event!" with "Brian Stokes Mitchell Vs. Marin Mazzie" in "The Musical Comedy Knockout." In an early brochure, Mitchell and Mazzie were seen in boxing gloves, a far cry from their dignified images as Coalhouse and Mother, respectively, in Ragtime..
The upcoming cast also includes John Horton (Harry Trevor), Adrian Lenox (Hattie), Lee Wilkof (First Man), Michael Mulheren (Second Man) and Ron Holgate (Harrison Howell). Wilkof (the original Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors in New York) and Michael Mulheren (Titanic, the "Encores!" staging of Li'l Abner) play a pair of gangsters who come backstage to collect a gambling debt, and end up singing the Bowery waltz, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
Merwin Foard is the standby for both Mitchell and Holgate.
The cast also includes Paula Leggett Chase, Eric Michael Gillett, Patty Goble, Blake Hammond, John Horton, JoAnn M. Hunter, Darren Lee, Nancy Lemenager, Adriane Lenox, Michael X. Martin, Kevin Neil McCready, Carol Lee Meadows, Elizabeth Mills, Linda Mugleston, Robert Ousley, Vince Pesce, T. Oliver Reid, Cynthia Sophiea and Jerome Vivona.
Blakemore's musical projects have included The Life and City of Angels. He also directed Noises Off, Joe Egg and Lettice & Lovage for Broadway and Death Defying Acts Off Broadway. His next job on Broadway, in February 2000, is Michael Frayn's Copenhagen.
Marshall is known as artistic director of the popular Encores! musical theatre concert series. In February 1999, she staged Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms for Encores!
On Broadway, Marshall choreographed 1776 and Swinging on a Star.
Designers are Robin Wagner (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting) and Tony Meola (sound). Gemignani will conduct the classic score.
Kiss Me, Kate was Porter's greatest triumph and his most fully integrated book musical, coming late in his career after hits in the 1920s and 1930s with Paris, Fifty Million Frenchmen, Jubilee and Anything Goes.
The musical tells of the tempestuous relationship between estranged Fred and Lilli, touring in a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew (starring and directed by Fred), and the secondary leads, Bill and Lois, on the rocks because of his gambling habit and her wandering eye.
Songs from the score include "Why Can't You Behave?," "Wunderbar," "Another Openin', Another Show," "So in Love," "Were Thine That Special Face," "Too Darn Hot," "Where Is The Life That Late I Led?," "Always True to You in My Fashion" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
Several years ago, John McGlinn conducted a studio cast and recorded the entire score -- including such cut material as "What Does Your Servant Dream About?," "It Was Great Fun the First Time," "I'm Afraid, Sweetheart, I Love You," "We Shall Never Be Younger" (which has found life in recordings, in cabarets and in the British-created revue, Cole), "If Ever Married I'm" and "A Woman's Career" -- for a two-disc release on the EMI/Angel label.