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' - which 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 Ann Miller as Lois Lane/Bianca in the film far outshone a
rather underpowered Nancy Anderson in this production. In the M-G-M
production, Miller was particularly memorable in the number 'It's too darn
hot' (a song originally written for a black male performer in the original
1948 stage version) and here rightfully, if less effectively, restored to
the correct character (who himself was transformed into a white British
butler in the film!). 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 starring 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.