“I wanted them to see a more equal relationship between those two characters both in Shrew and in the life story of the show,” director Scott Ellis said of his new revival of Kiss Me, Kate, which officially opened at Studio 54 March 14 starring Kelli O’Hara, Will Chase, Corbin Bleu, and Stephanie Styles.
Kiss Me, Kate is a classic show-within-a-show where exes Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi star alongside each other as Petruchio and Katharine in Fred’s new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. As the two catfight backstage, “life” imitates art, and Lilli’s temper is further inflamed when Fred sends flowers to Lois Lane, their Shrew co-star. As all good farce, the layers of complicated relationships and misunderstandings continue between Lois and her partner Bill (who plays Lucentio in Shrew).
But, as Ellis told Playbill live on the opening night red carpet, he really wanted the focus to be the love between Fred and Lilli and love for the theatre. “The first time I ever read it I had this idea of how to book end it and I added a coda to the show,” he said, referencing a newly added final scene. “To me that sort of spoke for everything because you bring it back to those two characters and you think, ‘They’re gonna be OK,’ and they've learned.”
The full cast brings the heat in such numbers as “Another Op’nin’ Another Show” and the famous “Too Darn Hot.”
And that’s by design thanks to choreographer Warren Carylye. “The musical does that already and I just have to try and not disappoint everybody and do a ten out of ten every time and once one number starts hitting at ten out of ten then I go to work on the other ones,” he said.
“The voices in this show... Kelli gets up and sings ‘So In Love’—tears. And then I started crying at ‘Too Darn Hot’ I sat there and said are you kidding me? My dancing days are over but I wanted to jump up there,” said Mel Johnson Jr. “When you dust off one of these old war horses, as they say, it's just a dream. And when you have a cast like this to take it to the stratosphere what more can you ask for?”
“I tried never to slow down. I tried never to dip,” Carlyle added. “So I challenged myself to top myself with every single number.”
“Too Darn Hot” is a 10 minute and 45 second number pulling out all the stops. As is “Bianca,” when Bleu tap dances upside down on the ceiling. “
“I sat in the third row and all I could see was the ceiling, it just looked like real estate I hadn't used. It was the only part of the set I hadn't danced on.”
“Warren said, ‘I want to bring in these bars and I want you to be able to hold on and tap on the railings,’” recalled Bleu. “As they brought them in and I started playing around and went upside down and he said, 'That!‘”
In addition to learning how the numbers in the show came about, Playbill also learned secrets about the set. “In my dressing room there are obvious things,” said Chase. “There's a huge picture of me with a goofy smile, there are little tweaks, little things on my dressing table. There are little books that I asked for because I wanted Fred to be perceived as a literary person, things that people won't know. That's why David's sets are always so great because the details are so particular.”
Playbill spoke to James T. Lane, who plays Paul and leads the epic “Too Darn Hot,” as well as Adrienne Walker, John Pankow, ensemblists Justin Prescott, Darius Barnes, Tanya Haglund.
“I feel like my years of being obsessed with musical theatre has prepped me to be in a show about musical theatre,” said Styles, “and I'm always true to musical theatre and Broadway in my fashion.”
Watch the full livestream above for more.