Book by Sam and Bella Spewack
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
adapted from The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare

INFO:

Opened at the New Century Theatre   December 30, 1948   1,077 performances (often revived, the 1999 revival on Broadway ran almost 900 performances.)
Original Director: John C. Wilson
Original Choreographer: Hanya Holm
Original Producer: Arnold Saint-Subber, Lemuel Ayers
Original Leads: Fred/Petruchio: Alfred Drake    Lilli/Katharine: Patricia Morrison    Lois/Bianca: Lisa Kirk    Bill/Lucentio: Harold Lang
Cast Size: Male: 5    Female: 3    Ensemble: At least 12, more if possible    Total Cast Size: 20 or more.
Orchestra: 19.  Can be done with smaller ensemble, no doubt.
Published Script: Chilton
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: Various. The original Broadway is very good. The revival in 1999 was excellent. Even the film is fun, though as always, it does not p[resent the complete score.
Film: A fair film, 1953, colorful and well cast. There have been at least four TV productions, starting in ’58, with the last one in 2003.
Other shows by the authors: Porter: Anything Goes, Can Can, Silk Stockings
Awards: 5 Tonys for the original, including Best Musical, Book and Score.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

A virtually perfect musical comedy, almost on a par with Guys & Dolls, only lacking a touch of the heart that show has. But this one is as smart, as sassy, as fun as they get. Songs don’t get better than this score, not in the Musical Theater.

It is a large show, a dance show, with demanding leading roles, lots of sets. And it is an adult show with adult humor. Fine for colleges and universities, Dinner Theater, Stock Groups looking for a large musical, and of course, Broadway, any time, please!

Be Warned:

There’s sex in them there songs. This is definitively an adult Musical Comedy. If your audience or performers are too young (a High School might be able to pull it off, if the school is open-minded about such things), too virginal, or too prudish to enjoy Porter’s word play…and a grown man taking a grown woman across his knee for a spanking…this isn’t the show for you. (This show is not particularly chauvinistic, bu the way, Kate certainly gets her time at bat.)

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: A hot, sticky day in Baltimore, on the bare stage of Ford’s Theatre. Actors rehearse a musical version of Taming of the Shrew. Their Director/Author/Star, Fred Graham, sits in the house and listens to the overture. Lilli Vanessi, star, and Fred’s ex, sits at the side of the stage, obviously furious. Fred gives Direction, and Lois, the comic ingenue lead, comes on to him. They run the curtain call, but Bill is missing, Lois other half om stage, madly in love with her off. Fred practices his bow with Lilli, who calls him a bastard and storms off. The cast is ready for “Another Op’nin, Another Show”. Backstage, Lois looks for the missing Bill. Bill enters, and needs money for the cab that delivered him. Bill offers to roll dice for the fare. He’s lost a fortune gambling, and Lois asks Bill, “Why Can’t You Behave”.

We see both Fred’s dressinmg room, and Lilli’s. Lilli’s is all decked out, feminine, a star’s room. Fred’s is drab backstage grim. They yell at each other through the common door. They get the half-hour call. Ticket sales are slim. Fred enters Lilli’s room to insult her when her phone rings. It’s her new beau, Harrison, and he’s at the White House, advising the President. Harrison sticks the President on to say hi to Lilli. Roses are delivered to Lilli’s room, but Fred kicks them out – he’s allergic. Lilli reminds Fred that it’s the anniversary of their divorce, and they celebrate it reminiscing. (“Wunderbar”) As they kiss, they get the 15 minute call.

Two strange men show up backstage, overly-well-spoken, dressed in fine suits. They are mob hit men. First and Second Man genuinely admire Fred’ s eloquent voice and language skills. They mourn having to hurt Fred, and though Fred offers, they tell him they already have his autograph…on an IOU. Fred looks, it isn’t his signature. They wish him a successful opening night, and hope he soon remembers signing the IOU, so they won’t have to do something everyone will regret. Fred is just confused, and retreats to his dressing room. Alone, Lilli admits she is “So In Love” with Fred, and always has been.

Fred’s dresser, Paul, also doesn’t know anything about the two strangers. Fred discovers that Paul delivered the flowers he ordered, but not to Lois, as he ordered – to Lilli. Lilli bursts in, tremulous and loving. It appears he did remember the anniversary after all. She wants to read the card, but the show is about to start, so Fred tells her what’s on it – lying, of course, as it was addressed to Lois.

The “show” starts, a Musical Comedy version of Shrew. (“We Open In Venice”) On stage, we see a piazza in Padua. In the play-in-a-play, we learn that young, beautiful, sexy Bianca (Lois) cannot wed until her older and shrewish sister, Katharine, does. Every “Tom, Dick or Harry” woos Bianca, a “maid made to marry.” But no go until Katherine is disposed of. Bianca’s suitors are distraught. Enter Petruchio (Fred), a swaggering womanizer of renown. And he announces that “I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua”. He will wed any woman with a bag of gold, be the woman a bag or no. The suitors see a light at the end of the tunnel. They tell him of Katharine’s wealthy family, and warn him she is a loud, violent shrew. He feels sure that, having survived war, no woman’s screams can disturb him. He exits into an Inn to strike a deal with the suitors.

Katharine (Lilli) makes Bianaca and he father, Baptista’s lives a living hell. Lucentio (Bill) let’s the beleagured father know there is a man willing to woo Katharine. He is delighted, but Kate lets the world know, “I Hate Men”. Baptista excitedly tells Kate a man wishes to woo her. Petruchio enters, and makes it clear that with a sufficient dowry promised, he will woo Kate. Kate, from a window above, makes it clear he must win her love, that’s a part of the deal. He wishes to see her face, and she lets him know it’s “a face like any other.” But Petruchio does long for love in spite of his mercenary stance, and lets her know that “Were Thine That Special Face”, love could follow.

She hates him, or seems to, and her father, Baptista, is unhappy. But Petruchio will persist. Kate returns… and Lilli has the bouquet of flowers in her hand, carrying it like a knife. She has enters before her cue, she’s obviously seen the card, and Fred warns her they are on stage. Through Shakespeare’s dialogue, they fight on stage, and she punches him in the stomach. (The extra dimension of the backstage story just makes the scene even funnier.) She keeps striking him, and he threatens to return the favor if she hits him again. They are fighting rather brutally and delivering their lines. She slaps him, and as promised, he throws her over his knees and spanks her in front of the world and the audience.

Backstage, Lilli is furious. She knows Fred is having an affair with Lois. (Why shouldn’t he, Lilli and he are not married any more.) She slaps him again. A bit of a hypochondriac, he retreats to his dressing room. In Lilli’s room, she’s on her phone, and tells Harrison she will marry him tonight, and tells her intended about Fred’s spanking her. She quits, right in the middle of the show. The two gunmen quietly enter Fred’s room as Lilli and he fight. They are enjoying the performance, and feel the audience is too lowbrow to get it. They have come to see if Fred now remembers that he owes their boss money. Fred knows he did not sign any IOU…but suddenly gets an idea and admits he did sign it. But he won’t be able to pay if the show closes, and it will close, gentlemen…if Ms. Lilli walks. He asks them to talk to her, convince her, which as they say, is their specialty. Fred introduces the men to Lilli as “ardent admirers.” They speak very highly about her, even as one man pulls a gun, switching it from one pocket to another, and suggests she stay with the show until Fred has paid his debt. She is terrified (rightly so), and Fred unconcernedly looks off into space and declares without any intent that this is an outrage.

On stage, Bianca (Lois) and Lucentio (Bill) perform :I Sing of Love”, in which we see their characters are made for each other. Then on stage, a church. Baptista says that Petruchio is mad, such a marriage is impossible. But Kate (Lilli) arrives ready to wed…and flanked by the two gunmen, now in appropriate costumes and having the time of their lives. They are married on stage,. And Kate is now Petruchio’s chattel. He demands “Kiss Me, Kate”. They fight as the song progresses, and at the end, he throws her over his shoulder and carries her out kicking and screaming.

ACT TWO: Backstage, perhaps outside the stage door. Paul and the company complain that it’s “Too Darn Hot” to do anything interesting with a sexual partner.

On stage again. Fred hurries through the break in the curtain, and something is clearly wrong. He announces that the next scene must be cut tonight where Kate rides a mule, because Ms. Vanessi (Lilli) is not able to sit, for some reason. The curtain then parts and we’re in Petruchio’s house. They play the scene in which Kate realizes that she shall have no rights, no privileges, and indeed, no food until she stops being a shrew. And Petruchio claims all the deprivation is for her health, her own good and happiness. (It is pure Shakespeare, and with the backstage story deepening it, pure magic.) Then he discovers her door is locked, and wonders “Where Is The Life That Late I Led” with all the willing females of Italy.

Backstage. Harrison Howell has arrived, and demands to see Lilli. He’s surprised to hear she’s on stage, as she has told him she’s dreadfully ill. Fred enters with the gunman and demands quiet, the show is on. The gunmen support him, and Harrison is mystified and furious. How dare Fred strike Lilli! Fred points out that Harrison has no idea what Lilli did to him, and that he should ignore any request Lilli makes to call the F.B.I. (“A very efficient organization,” says one gunman.) Fred is called to go on. Lois sees Harrison backstage, and recognizes him as someone named “Harold.” She has a bracelet from that man, and memories…and Harrison begs her to be discreet as he plans to wed Lilli. After all their indiscretion happened when he was a young man…of 45. Bill watches, and wants to know what man Lois doesn’t know well. She replies that, no matter how many men there have been and are, as to Bill, Lois is “Always True To You, Darling, In My Fashion”. In Lilli’s dressing room, Harrison is on the phone, laying out a very thorough wedding itinerary for his secretary. Fred listens, amused. Lilli arrives to her dressing room. Lilli tells Harrison the two thugs threatened her. Fred says the two men are rising actors, and that Lilli is being ridiculous. Having had enough, Fred invites Lilli to leave the theatre. He paints a picture of her life with Harrison. No theater, no fun, just endless, um, peace. Harrison agrees with every step of the endless description of excruciating boredom, it is exactly what he has in mind. The description is so dull it puts Harrison to sleep. Lilli is, as always, furious.

As Bill watches, backstage, Lois receives many gifts form many men. But he is determined that “Bianca” will be his. The gunmen enter, and talk on the payphone. (This could be a cell phone today.) Surprised, he lets Graham know that he’s off the hook for his IOU, as their boss has been bumped off and they now have another boss. They shall miss Graham, and they like theater a lot. (In fact, having spent a lot of time in their prison library, they are well read.) It appears that they depart. Lilli joins Fred, unwilling to wake Harrison. She is near tears. Fred senses she is weakening, but she exits to her cab, to leave. Alone, he sings “So In Love,” and it’s clear he is.

But the gunmen have mistakenly stumbled out onto the stage! The audience awaits, so they sing a tutorial, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, and exit to glorious applause. (One of the great comedy numbers ever.)

On stage again, the Baptista house. Lucentio is finally marrying his Bianca. Petruchio orders Kate about, and she willingly complies, even when his demands are ridiculous. Even Bianca, her sister, believes she’s being foolish. Kate protests “I am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple”. And the love runs deeper, it’s there for Fred and Lilli, as he shouts “Kiss Me, Kate”, and everyone sings the happy ending.

THE SONGS:

“Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “Why Can’t You Behave”, “Wunderbar”, “So In Love”, “We Open In Venice”, “Tom Dick Or Harry”, “I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua”, “I Hate Men”, “Were Thine That Special Face”, “I Sing Of Love”, “Kiss Me, Kate”, “Too Darn Hot”, “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”, “Always True To You, Darling, In My Fashion”, “Bianca”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple”, “Kiss Me, Kate (finale)”

Hits include “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “Why Can’t You Behave”, “Wunderbar”, “So In Love”, “I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua”, “Were Thine That Special Face”, “Too Darn Hot”, “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”, “Always True To You, Darling, In My Fashion”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. One of the most wunderbar, fantastic, delicious of all scores ever written for a musical! (And the book is pretty great, too.)

MY OPINIONS:

You may,. of course, ignore my opinions and rating.  But the results may not be so wunderbar…

One of my favorites. A fantastically entertaining adaption of what is perhaps Shakespeare’s nastiest piece of writing into a powerhouse modern entertainment. Cole Porter was in great pain when he authored the songs for this show. He’d had a terrible accident while riding a horse, which years and many operations later, would cause him to lose a leg, and to withdraw from the theater. How did he write this score, one of the brightest jewels in the Musical Theater crown, while in agony? One can only marvel at his genius and persistence.

And he wasn’t going to do this show, or so the tales go. When Bella Spewak came to him and pitched the idea of adapting Shrew into a Musical Comedy, Porter wasn’t interested. Shakespeare was, at that time and for some inexplicable reason, considered “box office poison.” Thank the Musical Theater Gods above for changing his mind!

This is a show that will never date. It will always seem fresh, and alive. It is a prototypical “backstage” Musical, about the doings of actors and actresses doing a show, with a show-within-a-show, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Shrew has not dated, though its lead male character is seen as a chauvinist pig today (and may well have been in Shakespeare’s day, by the way), I haven’t noticed anyone not entertained by it. As long as people do Broadway Musicals, and actors and actresses fall in and out of love, this show will work,.

There are few Musical Comedies as strong as Kate. Really, only Guys & Dolls is an equal to the kind of stellar, professional entertainment offered in this show. There are lots of terrific Musical Comedies, but these two shows stand as examples of near perfection in the form, in different ways.

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)

 

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is clever and memorable, and not too hard to play, teach or learn. The ensemble need to have a “Broadway” sound, a clean belt when they harmonize and sing together. Your Musical Director needs to be very comfortable with Porter, and musical styles of the 40s.

An extraordinarily high percentage of the music is performed by the principle four actors.

Fred/Petruchio – Big baritone voice, full and commanding. Nearly a classical or operatic voice, but with great energy and capable of great humor and large emotional expressions.

Lilli/Kate – Soprano, big voice, well-supported and capable of warm, emotional expression. A real Broadway voice.

Lois/Bianca – Alto, comic lead, terrific energy in the voice, a strong belt, some good high notes.

Bill/Lucentio – Lyric baritone, comic lead, good energy, pleasing voice.

First Man – Lyric baritone, character driven voice (gangster). Should be utterly different from the other gangster’s voice, Mutt and Jeff.

Second Man – Lyric baritone, character driven voice (gangster). Should be utterly different from the other gangster’s voice, Mutt and Jeff.

Harrison Howell – Non-Singing role. Could double in ensemble in Act I.

Hattie – Belt mezzo/alto. Able to really put across a number with volume, conviction, clarity.

Paul – Lyric baritone, fun voice, clear lyric delivery, decent belt.

Ensemble – Backstage types, and “actors” in the show. All should sing well, have fairly big belt voices, to create a Broadway chorus sound.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is a real Broadway Musical Comedy, with lots of movement. Most of it, however, is executed by leads. The ensemble has a few numbers, but they do not work anywhere near as hard as your leads.

Your choreographer is going to need to be very secure with Musical Comedy high energy ensemble movement, as well as small ensemble comic movement built up from the lyric as much as the music. You’ll need an experienced Choreographer for this show.

Numbers a choreographer is going to be involved in probably includes “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “Wunderbar”, ““We Open In Venice”, “Tom Dick Or Harry”, “I Sing Of Love”, “Kiss Me, Kate”, “Too Darn Hot”, “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”, “Always True To You, Darling, In My Fashion”, “Bianca”, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, and “Kiss Me, Kate (finale)”.

“Another Op’nin, Another Show” is the big high-energy opening number, filled with the excitement theater people feel on opening night. We should feel more than theater happening up there – we should feel adrenaline flowing through Hattie and the ensemble’s veins. It’s opening night! Use the number to “set” props and show actors reviewing lines, getting made-up, you name it – all backstage action is fair game. If the audience feels that, on top of watching a fantastic and famous opening number, they are getting a peek into what happens backstage at a real show, that will deepen their enjoyment.

“Wunderbar” is a mock Viennese waltz for your two leads. It is a lampoon of old-fashioned operetta, and just for your edification, you cannot “gaze down on the jungfrau” as it is the third highest mountain in the alps, by far the highest in its neighborhood. The entire number is a self-knowing, knowledgeable, worldly jest the leads perform in their best self-deprecating fashion, as they gently waltz. But we must also sense that they were once in love, and that they are still drawn to each other. And they must sing extremely well, here, so the movement cannot be much, and cannot wind them. Stage this number with wisdom, fun and romance in mind.

“We Open In Venice” is pure show-biz razzamatazz. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the actor’s are dressed in costumes and performing in a musical version of Shrew. The number is pure Broadway hatch-cha in your face, and is the “opening” number for the on stage show, so it needs to be pretty high energy. And funny. As always with Porter, ignore the lyric and fail to promote its meanings through movement at your peril.

“Tom, Dick Or Harry” is yet another onstage number, three men hovering close to and wooing Bianca. They should all dance and sing well, and the number should be as fun as possible, as she moves from one man to the next within a blink. There are laughs to be had from this approach to the number. She should be elusive.

“I Sing Of Love” is another onstage number, as is “Kiss me,Kate”, the finale for Act I. Keep the show-biz stuff coming, keep it fun and silly and presentational.

But “Too Darn Hot” takes place backstage. It is performed by your ensemble, and is “real life.” It is hot, we should feel the heat. And these people are sexually frustrated, and the movement should be all about that. And the heat. And starting Act II off aggressively.

“Where Is The Life…” is Petruchio’s longing for the lost and many women of his pre-marital past…and it would be fun if he conjured them up, perhaps, so we could make this in to a bit more of a production number. All Fred/Petruchio needs to do is appreciate the fine ladies, they can do most of the movement while he sings and emotes.

“Always True To You…” is the female response to “Where Is The Life…” Lois is a promiscuous woman who cannot commit to one man while there is still one man untried. She wants to believe that she can commit to Bill, but she should be looking over every man that walks by, especially if they have money. Lois has a great ability to get rich men interested in her, and we need to see that. Casting the role well in the first place will help. But this number requires good energy, and the sense that she is irresistibly drawn to another man, each verse, and then forces herself back to Bill. It’s romantic ping-pong. Bill can only watch in silence. But when she draws near, he is so attracted to her he forgets her colorful past. Even if that past was five minutes ago. “Bianca” is his onstage answer to Lois. It’s simple, sweet movement. He will make her his.

And we come to my favorite number. The gangsters know nothing about show biz or dance. But they know their Shakespeare, having studied it during their years in the prison library. Their movement is stiff, improvised, a poor imitation of many of the moves they’ve seen real actors perform that very night. So borrow moves you used in earlier numbers, and alter them for these characters. This number is all about getting laughs. It is the 11:00 number for the show, the number near the end intended to wake up the audience and let them know the end is coming. It is one of the great 11:00 numbers in all Musical Comedy. It should be great fun, with movement based on the characters and who they are.

This show needs real movement, dance, fun, glitz, and all of it must support the characters and the plot. No movement just to show off the Choreographer’s chops. And always remember that your leads have a lot of singing to do.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Fred/Petruchio – At least 35, better at 40 or older, a mature leading man type, self-involved, funny, vain. A dreamer and a schemer. Charismatic in the way hams can be. A man with a long history of chorus and second rate roles that finally made him a star. So he is stubborn, and in fact will not give up on a thing once he’s decided upon it, such as his career, and Lilli. Tall, dark and handsome, with a fantastic singing voice. Cast for voice, type and acting, some movement. A star.

Lilli/Kate – 35-45. Almost a female version of Fred, but with a far worse temper. Must be lovely enough that we understand millionaires and stars falling for her. Very stubborn, even when she knows she’s wrong. Cast for voice, type and acting, some movement. A star.

Lois/Bianca – In her 20s, sexy as all creation, high-energy, womanly. A very talented onstage singer/dancer, must really move well. Able to play coy, or anything else she needs to draw a man in. But she does love Bill, in her fashion. They are two sides of the same coin. Cast for look, dance, voice, acting in that order. Must have everything.

Bill/Lucentio – About Lois age, perhaps a year or two older. A good looking, appealing hoofer with an out-of-control gambling problem and a tendency to brush disasters under the rug and keep walking. Cast for dance, voice, look and acting. Must do all three well.

First Man – 40s-50s. One of two hit men there to collect a debt. Stereotype, a different physical type than the other man. They have a knack for pseudo-intellectual speech, having spent years in the prison library, and may be the best educated men in the show. Off-handed, casual in his threats and violence. A great comic role. Cast for type, acting, voice, dance, but must be able to sing and do some movement.

Second Man – Same as the First Man, really make them as physically different as possible, withing the age-range, etc.

Harrison Howell – In some versions, “General Howell.” Older than Lilli by a few years at least. Attractive to a point, wealthy, powerful, incredibly boring. A man with many fixed and unmovable ideas about how to conduct a life, rigid and humorless, but not grim. Everything is under control, and will remain so. Destined to become an “old poop.” Cast for acting, type.

Hattie – Any mature age past say 25. Lives and breathes show-biz, probably has a room backstage she sleeps in. Tough, bright, organized. Cast for voice, movement, then acting and type.

Paul – Another backstage worker, any age from 25-45. Enjoys sex enough to sing a cool song about it, and we won’t guess with whom. Cast for voice, movement, then acting and type.

Ensemble – All either in the “onstage” show, or backstage workers, but all must be able to sing and dance to varying degrees. Belt voices helpful. Should harmonize well.

SETS:

All the action takes place in the theatre where the fictional musical version of Taming of the Shrew is being presented. The original sets were famous for a diamond pattern (as were the costumes), designed by one of the original producer, Lemuel Ayers. Here are some examples of the pattern put to use by various productions, though you are certainly not obligated to use it.

The “onstage” action should look theatrical, designed, “pro,” as well as “Musical Comedy,” colorful, eye-popping. And, well, um, “Venetian,” since that’s where Shrew takes place, supposedly. So some research into what “Venetian” means is in order. Some of the sets for the onstage show have been gorgeous recreations of Venice, which is perfectly fine. But these actors are putting on a Musical Comedy.

Whatever you build for “onstage,” it needs to be easily lifted and dropped, or it needs to be placed on a secondary stage and fixed. But it cannot hide or get in the way of the offstage, or “backstage” action, with which it shares the show. The “onstage” set changes several times in “location”, from a Venice street, to Baptista’s house, to Petruchio’s newly-acquired house. Perhaps a single set with furnishings brought on and off as needed for the “onstage” show would work best. (This is a show-within-a-show, you can use “stagehands” to bring furniture on and off, and stage it into the “action”, making most changes while the “backstage” action transpires. Just do not allow the changes to in any way upstage the backstage action. You’ll need open floor space in front of the set for lots of songs.

The backstage set is busy with sets, props, stage manager and other personnel. It needs to consist of three spaces. One – the common and open area leading to the “stage”, with a small booth for the person at the door, and a payphone placed away from the stage. (Unless you’re moving this all to today.) Two and three – Fred and Lilli’s adjacent dressing rooms. These are sometimes elevated, sometimes not, and at the back of the stage, and are either open, or scrimmed. I would not scrim them if possible, as it creates a barrier between the audience and a lot of the action. You could have “walls” that fly up when unneeded, and return as needed. Or lighting can focus attention as needed. No large numbers take place in these two rooms, just small action. At one point in Act II, five characters are in Lilli’s room. There must be a common door, and doors leading “out” to the common area.

The two dressing rooms need to feel different, at least in their decoration. His is undecorated, backstage squalor. Hers is girly, mirrors and light, flowers perhaps, memorabilia and lots of make-up, maybe a wig or two. I wouldn’t make these room too big, but “Wunderbar” is performed in hers, and needs some room for an intimate waltz.

The backstage set in unchanging, of course, and you may be able to use the actual walls of the stage as part of the set, which would maximize the depth of the playing area. Have a standing work light placed off to the side somewhere.

Because of the “double stage” requirement, you’re either going to need a deep stage, a wide stage, or a secondary stage. Or you could get very creative. Have a unit set that is “backstage”, lower or place a “drape” in front of it, say half way up the stage, with the name of the onstage Musical, and play everything “onstage” in front of that drape without sets, as Shakespeare did. Perhaps post a sign stating where the new scene happens. In this manner, only a single set need be built. But your costuming for the onstage material had better be very bright and theatrical, then, as there isn’t going to be much “bright” to look at. Your “single set” approach cannot be “onstage,” as “onstage” in this show is an extension of the real life happening “backstage.”

This may be quite a large job! The design of the show will very much influence the staging and the flow of action. Work closely with your director, and with the other designers.

COSTUMES:

“Offstage” is professional theater people, for the most part, and you probably know what they look like today. If you do the show in period (late 40s), find out what Broadway stars dressed like back then, for Fred and Lilli. Lois should always show off enough of her wares to interest most of the men present. While in the dressing room, we really do not want to see Fred or Lilli in partial undress, so avoid it. Screens placed in the dressing rooms should hide changes, anyway.

The two hit men are in the suits. Then they show up in costume for the onstage show.

The onstage show is where you’ll get to display most of your colorful, creative designs. It is an adaptation of a Shakespearean farce, into a “modern” musical. The characters are larger than life, and so, too, should be your costuming. Petruchio is a “manly man”, Bianca an Elizabethan (or Venetian) babe, Kate attractive, even beautiful, but careless of dress and of her appearance.

The onstage costumes should really pop, and be great fun. It is likely you’ll be building them, as they should really be “designed.” You can go straight period costuming if you’re not set up to build costumes, and rent almost everything from a large shop. Go for the brightest, funnest period look you can, over-the-top and openly theatrical. And remember, the onstage performers do a lot of singing and dancing, and must breathe.

Your backstage denizens are dressed however they are dressed, but they also have two big numbers with movement, the opening and “Too Dfarn Hot.” The second number in particular is really a dance piece. Dress with this in mind. Get the period shoes, hats, jackets right.

Harrison is in a perfect suit, perfectly cut, a figure of spit and polish.

A big job! Work closely with your director and other designers,

PROPS:

Two guns. A bouquet of flowers (probably fake…) and a card. Make-up (probably real…) on the dressing room tables. Signage for the onstage scenes, if called for. Actually, not too hard a job.

LIGHTING:

You’ll be developing two distinct looks, the “backstage” look, and the “onstage” look. As you know, many backstages are dark, shadowy, with lights that are gelled. This is not true of dressing rooms, well lit, with lit mirrors. Try to not go entirely “real” on the lighting for backstage, as so much action happens there. What’s more, you’ll need to isolate areas backstage to focus attention on action.

And there’s lots of numbers backstage, some of the large. These need to feel “Musical Comedy”, without popping as hard as the onstage stuff will. So you’re going for moods backstage for numbers. “Too Darn Hot” can take place in shadows, backstage or in an alley outside if you like. These theater folk are talking about sex, in the shadows, and they are exuberant about it even though sweltering.

Onstage scenes should be brightly lit, with perhaps a sense of Italian light if you want to get “artsy.” But the numbers are often pure schtick, vaudeville, and need high-energy, straight Musical Comedy lighting.

An interesting challenge. There will probably be many cues.

MAKE-UP:

Unobtrusive for backstage characters. Theatrical and perhaps even “designed’ for onstage, though if you go too far that way, when they step backstage again things could get confusing. Overall, I’d make-up onstage as theatrical, but not crazy. Lilli and Lois need to be lovely and sexy, variously.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Music Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer,. Lighting Designer, Fred, Lilli, Lois, First and Second Man (the two representatives of the mob)

MY THOUGHTS:

Most Musicals are adaptations. The vast majority of successful shows (though not all of them) are adapted from established literature. Plays, novels, short stories, you name it have been adapted into Musicals. It is indeed an art unto itself to select a piece that can adapt easily and well, and then make it work as a Musical. The Spewaks and Porter showed us all how to create a Musical Comedy from farcical material, how to make it classy, and hysterically funny. Watching this show is watching masters at work.

It is generally felt that this late 40s classic was Porter’s attempt to do what Rodgers and Hammerstein had so famously done, create an “integrated musical” where all the elements contribute directly to story and character development. I would argue that R&H, even in their best shows, didn’t really do that, but another time and another place. Kate was supposedly Porter’s response, and it is by far the most sophisticated and “integrated” show he ever wrote. That said, and with great gratitude, numbers like “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” do not “organically” evolve from this story. It is pure Musical Comedy schtick at its professional best. And what could be better than that?

In my teen years I got to perform “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” with a good friend.  He is a large, imposing, stately man, and I was (and am) short and high-energy.  Man, we had fun with that number!  You will, too.