Brush up your Shakespeare the Musical way
Anyone who has read any of my other reviews of musicals will know that not only do I enjoy them but I also have a pet peeve, that of musicals about performers which throw various musical scenes in which have little to do with the story. But whilst on one level "Kiss Me Kate" fits into this category it is very much the exception to the rule because this is a musical which thanks to it having a story within a story the various musical scenes of the characters performing are as much a part of the story as are the musical scenes about the story. Actually that probably sounds more complex so to break it down for those who don't know the story to "Kiss Me Kate" it is the story of a divorced couple who whilst still in love argue a lot and they are brought together along with a sexy dancer and a gambler to put on a musical version of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" so basically we have a musical inside a musical. And it does a wonderful job of interweaving these two musicals providing some brilliant musical moments as well as drama plus plenty of comedy making "Kiss Me Kate" memorable and well worth a watch.
When Fred Graham (Howard Keel - Calamity Jane) is asked by Cole Porter (Ron Randell) to not only appear but also direct his musical version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" he knows the perfect person to play the Shrew, his ex-wife Lilli (Kathryn Grayson). And Lilli is not the only woman he has in mind for the musical as he also plans to cast his sort of girlfriend Lois Lane (Ann Miller - On the Town) in the part of the Shrew's sister. Whilst Lilli is not overly keen on performing with Fred she agrees and it soon becomes apparent to both of them that they still have feelings for each other. But when confusion over a bunch of flowers and two heavies show up to collect on a debt, Fred's production may end up a complete disaster.
So as already mentioned "Kiss Me Kate" is a musical within a musical and so on the outside so to speak it is the story of Fred and Lilli who whilst divorced are obviously still in love with each other. Now whilst Fred is flirtatious with show girl Lois and Lillie is now engaged to cattle rancher Tex, if you can't work out how this is going to end up you really need to watch a lot more musicals. But it doesn't matter that the outcome is inevitable because the tribulations which go on as Fred talks Lilli into being the Shrew in the musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew" are all good fun.
And a huge reason why it is such good fun is that this first story then interweaves itself with the actual musical of "The Taming of the Shrew" as arguments and lies find their way into the actual show. So when Lilli receives a bunch of flowers from Fred which had been intended for Lois she soon lets him know that she is unhappy as he tries to sing one of the songs in the musical. I know I'm not doing a good job of explaining this because to be honest you need to watch "Kiss Me Kate" to really understand what a cleverly worked musical it is with the storylines interweaving beautifully.
What this does mean is that the various musical moments tend to relate to the actual production of "the Taming of the Shrew" be it a rehearsal or actually during the performance but with music and lyrics by Cole Porter pretty much every single one works. From Ann Miller giving a purposefully over the top rendition of "Too Darn Hot" through to the actual shows "Tom, Dick or Harry" they are all memorable. But there are some stand out musical moments with "Wunderbar" and "We Open in Venice" being two of the best with both Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson showcasing their amazing singing talents. Although it is rather ironic when one of the most entertaining musical scenes is the comedy of the debt collecting heavies played by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore singing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", such a brilliantly funny routine.
Now for those who think 3D is a new toy of the 21st century you would be wrong as it has existed in one form or another for decades and "Kiss Me Kate" was shot in 3D. Sadly I've not seen the 3D version, although I would love to, because there are numerous moments where objects are being thrown at the camera which obviously were meant to appear to leap from the screen. It makes it a bit comical when fruit gets thrown towards the camera for no real reason than to showcase 3D but then in a strange way I am sure it would have been entertaining almost as entertaining as Ann Miller appearing to come out of the screen which she appears to be doing in one number as she heads ever closer to the camera.
What else is there to say, well to be honest everyone in "Kiss Me Kate" be it Howard Keel down to Tommy Rall and James Whitmore seems to be having a good time. There is a real energy to all the performances and director George Sidney capitalizes on this by keeping things bouncing along giving us one musical scene after another usually only interrupted for a moment of amusement. The almost operatic quality of some of the musical numbers may not be everyone's cup of tea but then you have the more comical everyday numbers such as "Why Can't You Behave" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare".
What this all boils down to is that "Kiss Me Kate" is to be honest one very entertaining and memorable musical. How it differs to the actual stage show it was adapted from I can't say but for those who enjoy their musicals from the comfort of their own home won't go very wrong with this.