1997 - Kiss Me, Kate

Some people believe that Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew should be issued with a government health warning: Altogether disgusting to modern sensibility (G. B. Shaw). The Taming of the Shrew has always been a popular play. It is not only very funny, but it also reflects contemporary discussion of marriage and the role of women. Perhaps the play is about two misfits who find true contentment with each other: I believe Shakespeare was a feminist (M. Bogdanov).

Shakespeare's plays are generally concerned with education in that principal characters learn something of themselves in the course of the play which they had not realised before. The Taming of the Shrew has also generated a number of adaptations since it was first staged in 1594 including Frederick Reynold's opera in 1828 and of course Cole Porter's Kiss me, Kate in 1948. Cole Porter gave up his attempt to study law and instead studied at Harvard University School of Music.

His songs for shows like The Gay Divorce 1932 and Anything Goes 1934 were characterised by ingenious lyrics and unusual rhythms and placed him at the forefront of musical comedy. Prior to 1937 Cole Porter had nine shows produced, most of which were hits. A horse riding accident in 1937, left him crippled and in pain for the rest of his life. The thought of musically adapting William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was not immediately exciting to Cole Porter and it took some friends almost ten years to convince him to adapt the complex play-within-a-play, back-stage and onstage. Cole Porter had never been given such an intricate idea to work on and the combined nagging of his friends finally gave him the courage to do it – and soon enough he was completely caught up with the project. Perhaps without the accident musical theatre would have been deprived of the more mature theatrical Cole Porter.

With Kiss me, Kate in 1948 he created what which many consider to be his most theatrically effective and versatile score. Daniel Bütler, the designer, had the responsibility of turning a rather dated musical into a piece of modern theatre. The source of the sets were from paintings of the sixteenth century. They have been pared back and emphasise the architectural aspects of that time and also give a Puritan austerity. The catwalk effect is a parody of the fashionable time we live in today. The costumes by Cathy Glass too are clean cut and gleaned from Paduan traditions. The focus is left to fall on the sounds and actions of the troupe of players.

Produced by Patrick Sequiera, with David Smith as Musical Director and Robin Müller-Kovac doing the choreography and staging, this was a great show, with wonderful music.

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