When Warren Carlyle sets out to choreograph a musical, he always enters the studio with two extra ingredients: his dance arranger and his percussionist.
Contrary to mounting musicals in high school, no one hands a Broadway choreographer a completed track—even with a revival such as Kiss Me, Kate. Carlyle’s choreography matches the music of his dance breaks because he creates dance and music in tandem—this time with dance arranger David Chase.
“It is chicken and egg because sometimes it is music first and I choreograph to the music, but other times I’ll have legs go up and David knows the phrase has to rise,” Carlyle explains.
Their collaboration began with “Too Darn Hot,” which has long been the standing ovation–driving showstopper of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. Carlyle wanted a deeper story and found it in Chase’s suggestion to make the number a Battle of the Sexes, which unlocked the show’s choreographic throughline.
Watch the video above to hear Carlyle break down the epic number beat by beat. (Videography and editing by Roberto Araujo.)
“I realized I could have that in every single number of Kiss Me, Kate in some shape or form,” says Carlyle. “That became my organizing principle and this great [battle for] equality that I don’t think anyone actually ever wins.”
Though this narrative plays out in the waltz of “Wunderbar,” the character-driven “Tom, Dick, or Harry” and “I Hate Men,” the tarantella of “Cantiamo,” the Renaissance pavane for the wedding scene in The Taming of the Shrew, and the classical jazz and percussive hoofing from top to bottom, nowhere is it more prevalent than in “Too Darn Hot.”
For this production, Carlyle’s Battle of the Sexes, layered with musical innovation, imagery, and tap, led to a “Too Darn Hot” like no other.
The song begins with James T. Lane’s Paul trying to woo Adrienne Walker’s Hattie, but the full ensemble replicates the heated push-pull dynamic. “They each have their own narrative, and I think that’s what makes it rich,” says Carlyle. “When you look around the stage you see a million different versions of ‘boy meets girl’ or ‘Adam and Eve’ or Battles of the Sexes. Some of them are in ‘yes, yes, yes’ stage and some of them are in ‘no, no, no’ and some of them are ‘maybe.’”
These emotional forces inform Carlyle’s movement throughout the show. “Contrast is how I work. You want them to leap really high and then I want them to lay on the ground,” he says. “Really bright to really dark. That’s what makes it interesting.”
The choreographer also added two other aspects to the number that have never been in a previous Kiss Me, Kate. “The song is in minor key, but there’s a major section, which is basically once James T. Lane and Corbin [Bleu] start dancing together,” says Carlyle. “What I call the Nicholas Brothers section did not exist.”
Speaking of the Nicholas Brothers, this is the first time the number has included tap dancing and Bleu’s character Bill. “The tapping in ‘Too Darn Hot’ was done out of me worrying that Bill Calhoun had 45 minutes offstage and I thought the character was dead in the play,” he says. “I didn’t think the actor would ever recover, so I made a decision to include Corbin and then selfishly took advantage and used his language of tap dancing, which gave me a brand-spanking new idea right when I needed one.”
And Carlyle is hungry for ideas. Amidst the high-flying kicks, twirling lifts, pull-backs down the stairs, and upside-down tapping, the demanding movement always serves his story “to the way the women treat the men, and the men treat the women.”
Which today is a story we need in all its forms.