The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

A CurtainUp Review

Kiss Me Kate
Kiss Me Kate Ends Its Run On a High Note -- With Two Superb Stars and The Whole Show Still Sparkling

by Elyse Sommer
Kiss Me Kate
Carolee Carmello & Burke Moses (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Our prediction that this revival would be an award winner and have its own original cast album have come true. When leading man, Brian Stokes Mitchell departed for a non-singing role in King Hedley II the very personable Burke Moses stepped in. Now that the original quarrelsome leading lady, Marin Mazzie, has ceded the Lilli-Katharine role to Carolee Carmello for the show's final lap (The December 30th matinee will conclude what will add up to a run of 28 previews and 885 regular performances). I've admired Ms. Carmello in Hello, Again, Parade and A Class Act. I'm delighted to be able to report that she has topped these performances. She handles both Lilli and her play-within-the-play character, Katharine, with charm and verve. She's temperamental without the excessive scowls with which Ms. Mazzie invested it. Her beautiful voice rings clear and true, doing full justice to Porter's unforgettable tunes.

Burke Moses is as tall, dark and handsome a Fred-Petruchio as you could wish for. He manages the comic aspects of his role while projecting strong romantic appeal. Anyone who saw Patricia Morrison and Alfred Drake in the original production, will find Carmello as well as Moses reminding them more of those performers than their immediate predecessors.

In the more than two years since I first reviewed this revival, all but a few members of the original cast have changed. Stanley Wayne Mathis continues to bring down the house with the swinging, sizzling "Too Darned Hot" number that opens the second act. With Michael Mulheren still on board as one of the show-stopping gangsters, I couldn't help missing Lee Wilkoff, the shorter scrappier half of the duo. However, Michael McCormick fits the pin-striped suit most ably and amusingly. Janine LaManna, who was one of the main reasons to see the ill-fated Seussical is delightful as Lois Lane/Bianca.

The production values remain crisp and new so that everyone -- old-timers and replacements -- look great. The orchestra continues to do honor to the scintillating Porter rhythms.

For a musical that has it all -- great songs with instant recognition value, and stick-in-your-ears hummability, high-kicking choreography and eye-catching costumes and scenery -- Kiss Me Kate is a top entertainment value.

The production credits are as per our previous review. The current cast list is as follows: Burke Moses (Fred Graham and Petruchio), Carolee Carmello (Lilli Vanessi and Katharine), Janine LaManna (Lois Lane and Bianca), Kevin Neil McCready (Bill Calhoun and Lucentio), Herb Foster (Harry Trevor and Baptista), Mamie Duncan-Gibbs (Hattie), Stanley Wayne Mathis (Paul), Michael Mulheren (Second Man), Michael McCormick (First Man), and Walter Charles(Harrison Howell).

Performances from 10/25/99; closing 12/30/01

--- the Original Review ---
If there's a sort of tv earthwatch room for playwrights and composers in the heavens, surely Cole Porter and Will Shakespeare would be there applauding the latest incarnation of Kiss Me Kate. Maybe Will would turn to Cole and declare "You sure knew how to write show stoppers with lyrics that sizzle with sophistication. And those two guys in the pin striped suits doing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" are something." The ever sophisticated Cole might respond with a tactful "well, your Taming of the Shrew triggered my musical muse with a great play within Bella and Sam Spewack"'s play. I think those feminists have come far enough to leave this show humming and not puffing -- even without that "tweaker" John Guare, but I've seen worse diddlings with your script.

Premature as this may sound, this production is certain to walk off with a handful of awards within the best musical revival category. With or without prizes, it is definitely a crowd pleaser. For a refreshing change that crowd will be all-inclusive, including the most discriminating musical theater buffs as well as tourist and family audiences. To borrow from one of more than a dozen of Porter's brilliantly sophisticated hits, this Kiss Me Kate is absolutely "Wunderbar"! Director Michael Blakemore has put together a production that's got it all. Let me count the ways --
The amusing two-tiered book by the Spewacks. It crosscuts between the backstage squabbles of a divorcd couple ( inspired by Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine who, while never divorced, did squabble) and their on stage musical production of The Taming of the Shrew thus affording a double opportunity to create songs and dances. It's worth noting that the Spewacks too were not strangers to the battle of the sexes. In fact, they were separated when they began work on the show but were reconciled by the time it was completed.

Cole Porter's songs and lyrics which take full advantage of the possibilities of the play-within-a-play. Porter wrote enough enduring show stoppers for a dozen one-hit-multi-reprise Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganzas. Mr. Blakemore has masterfully tied together the strands of the private lives of Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham and Shakespeare''s Katharine and Petruchio so that the shift from one to the other doesn't miss a step.

Sizzling choreography. Speaking of steps, this is truly a high stepping musical. Kathleen Marshall's awe-inspiringly original choreography is blessedly free of the aerobics class look that has prevailed in so many recent musicals. What's more, the dance routines, which can best be described wunderbar, are not in short supply.

Two truly shining stars. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie have already worked together in another big musical, Ragtime, but not as lovers. Now they prove themselves a delightful romantic team, each handling the comic demands of their double roles with panache. Both have terrific voices that deliver Porter's lyrics with crystal clarity -- his mellifluous and velvety, hers lush enough to handily scale a few trills. Their respective renditions of "So In Love""", her " I Hate Men" and his "Where Is the Life That Late I Led" are showstoppers (among numerous others). Ms. Mazzie would be even more enjoyable if she didn't have to scowl ferociously quite so often -- but then what's a shrew without shrewishness!

Plenty of revolving stars. This is a big show with impressive talents evident throughout the ensemble. Michael Berresse, who has danced his way through a number of other Broadway shows (he originated the role of Fred Casely in the still running Chicago), displays gasp-inducing acrobatic skills in the Act II "Bianca" number during which he navigates his way to the top rung of the three-story backstage catwalk. Amy Spanger, his girl friend (in both stories), is likely to be the season's most promising fresh talent. She behaves very well indeed in "Why Can't You Behave?" and " "Always True To You Darling (In My Fashion).

Another standout dancer, Stanley Wayne Mathis, gets the second act off to a spectacular start when he leads the ensemble in "Too Darn Hot." As a rule, I'd say this number was too stretched out, but given its pulsating beat and the performance of Mathis and the other dancers, it more than deserves this full treatment. The same is true of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" (in which you learn that "Othella was a helluva fella") by the show's endearing and memorable comic duo, the ever versatile Lee Wilkof and his gangster cohort Michael Mulheren. In their pin striped suits (and also their stint in Padua ), this dynamic duo could easily steal the show if the cast wasn't so uniformly excellent.

Sets and costumes. Robin Wagner has created the show's two worlds with great style -- the stars'' dressing rooms plus the towering back alley-rear window theater scene and the Elizabethean era Padua. Instead of scenery which at times seemed to chew up the performers in Saturday Night Fever, the designer, abetted by Peter Kaczorowski' effective lighting, here fully supports the flavor of the theatrical world and its inhabitants -- as does Martin Pakledinaz with his many colorful and stylish costumes.

What about the changes made in the script (said to be the work of John Guare, but unattributed)? The most obvious revision is in the role of Lilli's fiance. This time around he's a corn-cob smoking general (shades of MacArthur) whose presidential ambitions and roving eye threaten to turn Lilli into one of those loyal political appendages -- in short a woman no better off than the chastened Katharine. It's an amusing if not particularly necessary fillip, its most positive side effect being that it paves the way for Ron Holgate (the general) to sing "From This Moment On" from the movie version of the play. Does this deflect the objectionable sexism of the Shakespeare side of the musical? Thanks to the two leads and the deft direction, the show is hardly fatally anti-feminist even without script changes. In fact only a tone-deaf, feminist fanatic would fail to see that this is all in good fun and grand entertainment.

Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Sam and Bella Spewack
Directed by Michael Blakemore
Musical direction by Paul Gemignani
Choreography by Kathleen Marshall
Sets: Robin Wagner
Costumes: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound: Tony Meola
Orchestrations: Don Sebesky
Dance arrangements: David Chase
Fight direction: B.H. Barry
Wigs by Paul Huntley
Cast: Brian Stokes Mitchell (Fred Graham and Petruchio), Marin Mazzie (Lilli Vanessi and Katharine), Amy Spanger (Lois Lane and Bianca), Michael Berresse (Bill Calhoun and Lucentio), John Horton (Harry Trevor and Baptista), Adriane Lenox (Hattie), Stanley Wayne Mathis (Paul), Michael Mulheren (Second Man), Lee Wilkof (First Man) and Ron Holgate (Harrison Howell)
Performances from 10/25/99; opening 11/18/99
Martin Beck, 302 W. 45th St., 239-6200
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 23, 1999 performance
Musical Numbers
Act One

"Another Opnin'; Another Show"/Hattie and the Company
"Why Can’t You Behave"/Lois and Bill
"Wunderbar"/Fred and Lilli
"So in Love"/Lilli
"We Open in Venice"/Petruchio, Katharine, Bianca, Lucentio
"Tom, Dick or Harry"/Bianca, Lucentio, Gremio, Hortensio
"I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua"/
Petruchio and the Men
"I Hate Men"/Katharine
"Were Thine That Special Face"/ Petruchio
"Cantiamo D’Amore"/The Ensemble
"Kiss Me, Kate"/Petruchio, Katharine, the Ensemble
Act Two
" Too Darn Hot"/Paul and the Ensemble
"Where Is the Life That Late I Led?"/Petruchio
"Always True to You (In My Fashion)"/Bianca
"From This Moment On"/Harrison Howell and Lilli
"So in Love" (Reprise)/Fred
"Brush Up Your Shakespeare"/First Man and Second Man
Pavane/Bianca, Lucentio, and the Ensemble
"I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple"/Katharine
"Kiss Me, Kate" (Finale)/The Company
The Broadway Theatre Archive

©Copyright 1999, 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from