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Shrew To Be Tamed on Esplanade


Commemorative stamp
Commemorative stamp

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s next free concert, at the Hatch Shell on August 21st, will be Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, its second collaboration with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company following last season’s Symphonic Shakespeare.

According to Music Director Christopher Wilkins, “It will be a concert performance ‘plus.’ I say ‘plus’ because many elements of a full production are in place. The show is still fully directed: entrances, exits, blocking and movement are all carefully prepared and rehearsed. Steven Maler, the CSC’s Founding Artistic Director, directs, along with Associate Artistic Director Adam Sanders, who co-directs. The audience will see all the character interactions of a staged production, just not the elaborate sets and costumes constituting a full production. There will be lots of great dancing from the whole company, and choreography by the wonderful Yo-el Cassel, CSC’s resident choreographer, who also teaches at the Boston Ballet School.

The cast delivers a trimmed-down version of the script, the first priority being to deliver nearly every note of Cole Porter’s fabulous score. The orchestra will be large, even for the standards of 1948, the year of the show’s premiere. We will be a 37-piece orchestra. Even the recent South Pacific revival on Broadway – heralded as a triumph for its return to the original sound ideal – had only 30. Kiss Me, Kate calls for a flexible instrumental ensemble that can deliver both the lush sounds of the ballads and a true big band quality at times as well, and this accounts in part for the extra musicians needed. We’ll be playing the original orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett. We have a fabulous cast of mostly Boston-based talent, with Kerry O’Malley and Marc Kudisch as our leads, two genuine stars of Broadway and the American theater scene.”

BMInt: Will any spanking take place?

Christopher Wilkins: There are some very un-PC aspects to the show which, I think, if done with a wink of the eye, come off as fun. Taming the shrew did in fact require some “broad strokes.”

No one is going to eliminate Shylock from The Merchant of Venice either, I don’t think.

That’s right, I think most companies now don’t even try. They deliver it as it is, and allow the commentary and reactions to follow. Controversy is inevitable in art, and the extent to which it provokes discussion can be useful.

I can’t remember if there’s much of a chorus in Kiss Me, Kate.

Yeah, there’s a quite a lot! Although the show’s emphasis is on the two leading couples, the full company plays an important role. After all, the story is about a traveling Shakespearean troupe performing The Taming of the Shrew. So, for example, we get two openings performed by the whole company: one for the opening of the show, and the other for the opening of the play within the play, the Shrew opening. Kiss Me, Kate also has two finales: one is the Shrew finale, part of the Shakespearean “performance,” the other is the Grand Finale featuring the whole company singing “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

“Brush up your Shakespeare” is hilariously sung by gangsters, as I remember.

It’s hilarious partly because of the ridiculousness of these guys rattling of Shakespearean verse and references, but also because of Cole Porter’s lyrics. They are stunning. Porter was unusual in that he wrote all his own lyrics, and they’re as good as it gets. Probably the other best-known company number is “Too Darn Hot.” One of the challenges is that the cast sings some of the most sophisticated music ever written for Broadway, delivers lines written by the greatest writer in the history of the English language, and then turn around and dance their butts off. It demands a really talented bunch. There are also deeply expressive tunes like “Why Can’t You Behave?,” “So in Love” and “Wunderbar,” which are in a class of their own. Very few shows work with such mastery at all these levels.

Well, people can rent the 1953 film version from Netflix beforehand if they want to brush up on their Porter.

Exactly! And they should also plan to come to the Esplanade with its lagoons and gondolas. “Venice on the Charles.”

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