When “Kiss Me, Kate” first opened on Broadway in 1948, the New York critics swooned.
“If ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ isn’t the best musical comedy I ever saw, I don’t remember what the best musical comedy I ever saw was called,” wrote Robert Garland of the New York Journal-American.
“Occasionally, by some baffling miracle, everything seems to drop gracefully into its appointed place in the composition of a song show, and that is the case here,” said Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times.
“A smash hit of epic proportions,” is how Richard Watts of the New York Post described it.
This show’s success wasn’t too surprising, since two certified geniuses had a hand in its composition.
Cole Porter wrote the songs, including “Too Darn Hot” and “Another Opening, Another Show.” And William Shakespeare wrote “The Taming of the Shrew,” upon which the story is based.
However, nobody knew this combination would create such a runaway hit. It ran more than a thousand performances, from 1948 to 1951.
It also turned out to be the kind of show that transcended its era.
“Kiss Me, Kate” was revived on Broadway in 1999 with Brian Stokes Mitchell and ran another 881 performances. The 1948 original and the revival each won five Tony awards.
Meanwhile, the show has been performed by countless regional theaters, community theaters and school drama troupes.
Now the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, the region’s professional summer-stock company, lends its considerable resources to this classic beginning Saturday.
The troupe has tapped Nike Imoru, former Interplayers artistic director, to direct the show. Imoru is a fitting choice, since she is an experienced Shakespearean director, actress and scholar.
That is not to imply that “Kiss Me, Kate” is truly Shakespearean. This show was actually written by a pair of Broadway veterans, Sam and Bella Spewack.
“Kiss Me, Kate” is a cleverly constructed backstage comedy about a troupe of actors preparing a version of “The Taming of the Shrew.” We see them actually performing entire passages from the Bard, yet a lot of the plot takes place backstage and revolves around the romantic and comedic shenanigans of the players.
Thus the lead male role is Fred Graham/Petruchio, meaning that Fred Graham is the fictional actor playing Petruchio. The lead female role is Lilli Vanessi/Katharine.
In the CdA Summer Theatre version, Chris Thompson, a University of Idaho professor and veteran of Lyric Opera San Diego, plays Fred Graham/Petruchio. Jennifer Dudley, who has appeared with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, plays Lilli Vanessi/Katharine.
The catch is that Fred and Lilli were once married to each other. The sparring matches between them are complemented by – and complicated by – the spite-filled fights between Petruchio and Katharine.
Other major roles are played by Dennis Craig, Brad Willcuts, Patrick Treadway, Jack Bannon, Kent Kimball, Callie McKinney Cabe, Dane Stokinger, Andrew Ware Lewis and Darcy Wright.
Longtime local theater fans should remember Wright as a child actress who played many roles in both the CdA Summer Theatre and the Lake City Playhouse, including the title role in “Annie” and Amaryllis in “The Music Man.”
Now she’s a professional actress in New York returning to her hometown stage for the summer. She’ll play the role of Lois Lane, the actress who plays Bianca.
The CdA Summer Theatre will present Porter’s music the way it was meant to be played, with a full pit orchestra. Music director Max Mendez will conduct a 16-piece orchestra in such Porter classics as “Wunderbar,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Always True to You In My Fashion” and “So in Love.”
“Kiss Me, Kate” was the biggest hit of Porter’s long and spectacular career; the 38 actors and musicians in this production will attempt to show us why.