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DVD REVIEW
Cole PORTER (1891-1964)

Kiss Me Kate (1948)
Frederick C. Graham…Brent Barrett
Lilli Vanessi…Rachel York
Lois Lane…Nancy Anderson
Bill Calhoun…Michael Berresse
Harrison Howell…Nicholas Colicos
First Man…Teddy Kempner
Second Man…Jack Chissick
Hattie…Kaye E. Brown
Paul…Nolan Frederick
Harry Trevor…Colin Farrell
Gremio…Nick Winston
Hortensio…Barry McNeill
Ralph…Alan Vicary
Recorded at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London August 2002)
TDK DVD DV-MCKMK [146 mins]


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Cole Porter’s ‘play-within-a-play’ Kiss Me Kate, based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, opened on Broadway in 1948 and it was one of the first musicals to have over 1,000 performances. In 1953, M-G-M released a highly successful film version with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson in the lead roles and dancing star Anne Miller with Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore as the two gangsters who brilliantly, wittily advised the ‘fellas’ to ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’.

While this London stage production certainly has its moments, it cannot compare with the classic M-G-M film nor, I feel sure, with the original Broadway production that starred Patricia Morrison and Alfred Drake.

Brent Barrett is very good as Fred Graham/Petruchio, debonair, chauvinistic
and a real cad; and almost as convincing as Howard Keel. His voice has an
attractive timbre and he is as characterful in his patter songs ‘Where is
the life that late I led’ and ‘I’ve come to wife it wealthily in Padua’ as
he is tenderly romantic when he woos his ‘lost’ Lili in surely one of Cole
Porter’s loveliest ballads, ‘So in love with you’. This is more than I can
say for the singing of Rachel York in her earlier rendition of this number.
Why does she have to stoop to mauling the lyrics of this beautiful song in
the modern manner and in so doing swerve off key so depressingly? (bring
back Kathryn Grayson!). Mind you York makes a splendid virago especially in
her scenery-chewing ‘I hate men!’ The vivacious Anne Miller as Lois
Lane/Bianca in the film far outshone a rather underpowered Nancy Anderson in
this production. Dancer/singer Michael Anderson is smooth as silk as Bill
Calhoun, Lois’s beau. The show-stopper ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’ has less
sparkle and wit than in the film here and the intonation of the two
gangsters (Teddy Kempner and Jack Chissick) is at times incomprehensible.

Costumes are colourful and the sets are good and imaginative particularly in contrasting front and back stage settings but the lighting at times is weak and underpowered.

For those Cole Porter fans who are content with just an audio realisation of this musical, I can enthusiastically recommend the EMI 2 CD set (CDS 7 54033 2 in UK; CDCB 54033 in USA) released in 1990 that starred Josephine Barstow and Thomas Hampson.

A variable but mostly enjoyable production; I recommend you seek out a video of the wonderful 1953 M-G-M film version.

Ian Lace

 



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