Porter's Kiss Me, Kate is playing at the Opera House. Although I've been playing the cast album since I was in high school, I realized I've never seen the show performed. When I was thumbing through the program I found out why: it's never been revived before.
This is the touring version of the revival production that opened in New York about a year ago. It's playing here with Rex Smith whom I'm familiar with and Rachael York whom I'm not familiar with.
Since I've never seen the show, I can't say where the plot changes are but I'm sure they're there, particularly in regard to Kate's love interest and Bianca's straying. Musically there was a major change, and probably an improvement, in the opening. The number, Another Opening, was interwoven with the overture and used to introduce each of the characters on a bare back stage that ultimately became a full back stage and then the actual theater. It was done very well.
The costumes and lights were really good and so was the scenery ---- if the show were being performed in a theater it's designed for, like the Eisenhower or the National or the Warner or a Broadway theater. But in the Opera House the show got lost. The sets are so small compared to the size of the stage, it looks like you're viewing them through binoculars backwards. This, unfortunately, is common. Almost all musicals done in the Kennedy Center are performed in the Opera House which was designed for opera and ballet - and is great for them - and in which musicals always come off looking shrunken down.
The show was done straight and without too many PC or other modernizations. The main change was Kate/Lily's love interest who gets a bigger role here and also his own number, From This Moment On [which I think is an interpolation from the movie version which interpolated it from another Porter show.] The lover was now a caricature of Douglas MacArthur and the Broadway ruling circles did have to remind the audience that any male who not only is a soldier but also believed in a traditional family must be a liar and phony, and so they portrayed the character as a sneak-around philanderer.
The music was basically what I was expecting. There was one more number than I know from the recording, Cantiamo d'Amore, and Too Darn Hot was switched to a male/female production number. Most of the orchestration was either the same or in the same style as the original. But there were changes in the music.
One was speeded up tempos as in Why Can't You Behave and Were Thine That Special Face and Wunderbar; maybe the faster tempos helped with the running time and union regulations but they certainly didn't help the show. I'd also guess that in 1948 there wasn't as much in your face sexuality in the dances and movements as last night; they really tried to get the audience with "dick" in Tom Dick and Harry but either the audience missed it totally or the audience got it and yawned because they're so used to it.
Another musical change was more substantive. The singing style. It was wrong. Since I don't know music, I don't know the vocabulary; but almost all the singers [Hattie, Bill Calhoun, and - worst of all - the two principals] were singing pop/top 40 style instead of Broadway style.
During the intermission I was talking to some of the ushers [with whom I've worked for a quarter of a century], some of whom are trained performers. They agreed with me about that Stilbruch. I found out the term for holding and wavering the note is melisma. That works in spirituals and gospel music because it expresses true emotion. But pop singers now use it as a decoration. Petruchio got more and more extreme as the night went on. By the way, some of you have made comments to me that I may be too demanding in what I expect from a show [I'm not]; but interestingly the people I were talking with noted not only the wrong style but also could put into words something I wasn't able to do: the production was flat. Nothing [except the style] was wrong with it but it lacked spark
For no apparent reason Bianca was changed from a normal woman with a somewhat active libido into a bubble brained caricature of a floozy. But the woman performing her was one of the best in the show in both song and dance; a shame she had to play the role so silly-ly. The two gangsters were fine and crowd pleasers. Kate acted well and sang well, except for the vibrato/pop style; Petruchio didn't act as well as Kate and went really far downhill with his pop style singing as the night went on.
I was in the middle-back of the orchestra and it looked like the
house was almost sold out, maybe 2,000. But when I was talking to
the people out front they told me that upstairs was very light and
it actually was a bad house, 1500. The audience didn't seem as old
as I expected it to be --- but maybe I'm so old now that people in
their 40s don't look old.
A total aside: in one scene there was a radio playing a ball game; it looked just like the Fada radio we used to have.
Various parts of the production were very good but all together it was flat. Nothing [except the singers' style] was wrong with it but it lacked spark. It's a worthwhile production of a great show but don't expect electricity.