Kiss Me, Kate is one of the shiniest of the Golden Age musicals, an impeccable blend of brassy show biz and witty Cole Porter lyrics—plus a score that includes standards ranging from “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” to “Always True to You in My Fashion,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “So in Love.” And yet, the very first Tony Award winner for Best Musical has only been revived once before, in a 1999 production that starred Brian Stokes Mitchell and the late Marin Mazzie, who passed away last year.
Now, Will Chase and Kelli O’Hara take on the battling duo at the center of both Kate and the show within the show, a musical version of Taming of the Shrew. But while the show has been reworked for 2019 audiences, that doesn’t mean the past is forgotten. Indeed, costume designer Jeff Mahshie intentionally set out to pay homage to Martin Pakledinaz, who earned a Tony Award for the first revival’s costumes.
“When we work with Scott [Ellis, the director], we all work really closely,” Mahshie explains. During consultations among the design team, set designer David Rockwell mentioned that the top of the show features racks of costumes never meant to be worn. Typically, that would fall under his purview, but he asked Mahshie if he’d like to tackle it instead.
“I thought, ‘Let me pay a little tribute to Marty Pakledinaz,’” Mahshie says. After a few calls, he located the 1999 revival’s costumes at the Goodspeed Opera House, which was more than willing to lend him anything he needed. Armed with YouTube clips of the production, Mahshie and his assistant noted the costumes that would match the current production’s palette for the opening scene.
As he was pulling costumes for the rack, there was a debate happening about whether or not O’Hara should open the show in a hat or bareheaded. On a hunch, Mahshie phoned Goodspeed again and asked if they had the hat Mazzie wore. They did, and sent it over and, to Mahshie’s delight, it remained in pristine condition.
“And so I tried the hat,” Mahshie says. “And that door opens, the light comes behind [O’Hara], and it was very obvious. It was one of those moments when you knew. She made that entrance and it’s like, ‘OK. She gets the hat.’”
O'Hara, a longtime Mazzie fan, was immediately touched when Mahshie told her of the hat's provenance. "Hands to her heart, she said, 'I would be honored.'"
Now audiences will be able to see one Broadway Kate pay homage to another one eight times a week, as Kiss Me, Kate continues its run at Studio 54. And get a sneak peek of the hat in action in the newly released footage below!