Kiss Me Kate – An Interesting Choice for Julianne Boyd and Barrington Stage
by Larry Murray
Kiss Me, Kate, once a favorite musical for high school drama clubs all over America because of its connections to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and a melodic score by Cole Porter is back on the Berkshire docket for 2014. It might be a stalking horse to stimulate conversation about women’s rights. Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director, and Tristan Wilson, Managing Director, announced it as one of two productions revealed today for the theater’s 20th Anniversary Season. The musical is, of course, Porter’s masterpiece which he created with authors Sam and Bella Spewack. But in recent years it has also attracted attention to the mistreatment of women not only in the past but continuing to the present day.
Also announced by Barrington Stage is the world premiere romantic comedy Dancing Lessons by Mark St. Germain. More about that later, but first, the musical.
Since the premiere of Kiss me, Kate, sixty years ago the times have changed dramatically, and having based the story on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew there has to be a recognition of the different attitudes toward women that have emerged in contemporary culture. I expect that Julianne Boyd has chosen this musical to show that it can be relevant to the latest generation of theatre-goers, even with its historic premise.
As seen by Lisa O’Neill of the Dictionary Project, the problems with Kiss Me, Kate and Shrew is that their viewpoints begins where the strong-willed woman needs to be tamed; where her refusal to be married is completely ignored; where her voice and her actions, no matter how loud or demonstrative, do not matter; where she is powerless because her desires are given no respect by those around her—is deeply problematic. Ultimately, this is a play in which a woman’s fiery spirit is the punchline, and her lack of volition, the happy ending.
During the course of Kiss Me, Kate, she gets spanked – a running joke throughout the musical – and thrown over the shoulder of Petruchio who carries her off victoriously. Katherine’s penultimate song in this musical, “I am ashamed that women are so simple” says it all as far as I am concerned. Imagine instead it being sung by some caricature of a guy going: “I am ashamed that men are so simple.” One does not need to hear such nonsense in the 21st Century, and many women will take these messages very personally. And they’re the ones that usually do the ticket buying.
“Breathing new life into classic Broadway musicals and producing new work that deals with social issues are integral parts of Barrington Stage’s mission,” said Artistic Director Julianne Boyd.
Clearly Boyd has a real challenge on her hands with this musical. She will have to do more than just “Brush up your Shakespeare.” This is a musical that has the power to offend. Boyd and her director – rumored to be musical master John Rando – will have to find a way to make this less of a template for the bullying and mocking of women and more of a parable of how times can change attitudes, a tall order when simply trying to do a musical to the best of one’s abilities.
Boyd is a savvy and politically astute leader who has a fearless approach to controversial topics. This season she had the courage to take on plays that dealt with immigration and clashing cultures (Bashir Lazhar), transgendered folks living in Georgia (Southern Comfort) and the conflict of privacy and government secrecy (Muckrakers). Boyd is a very strong and determined woman herself. So it is not so far-fetched to surmise that she picked Kiss Me, Kate to stimulate an important discussion. It’s a pretty sure bet there will be many articles and interviews over the next nine or ten months that will bring up the smarmy politicians who court their votes even as they deny women the right to make their own decisions, justify rape, or to receive equal career opportunities.
Kiss Me, Kate is an excellent vehicle for this since it appears to be a great old musical that simply recounts the backstage and onstage antics of two feuding couples during a touring production of The Taming of the Shrew. That it sparkles with 18 classic Cole Porter songs is a bonus, what’s not to like about “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “So in Love,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. But within its merriment is a Trojan Horse of a topic that needs continued airing.
Some facts about Cole Porter’s most successful musical: the original production of Kiss Me, Kate opened on Broadway at the New Century Theatre on December 30, 1948 and ran for 1,077 performances. It starred Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison, and was the first musical to win the Tony Award as Best Musical. The production received its first Broadway revival in 1999 – starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie – winning 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival.
Kiss Me, Kate also has a Berkshires connection to composer/lyricist Cole Porter, who in 1940 purchased the 40 acre “Buxton Hill” estate with his wife Linda in Williamstown. Porter visited – and composed – there until his death in 1964.
And if this is not enough to pique your interest in Barrington Stage’s 20th season, then turn to the other show just announced, Mark St. Germain’s Dancing Lessons.
Mark St. Germain’s Dancing Lessons centers on a young man with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s syndrome) as he tries to navigate a relationship with a Broadway dancer, now sidelined with injuries.
Dancing Lessons marks the ninth play by Associate Artist Mark St. Germain that BSC will produce, and the eighth world premiere of his work. Dancing Lessons was commissioned through the generosity of Judith Goldsmith and is part of BSC’s New Works Initiative. Barrington Stage presented a staged reading of Dancing Lessons on September 1, 2013.
Season Passes, Discounts and Dates
Kiss Me, Kate will be presented June 11 through July 12, 2014 at the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage. Production dates and venue for Dancing Lessons are TBA.
For the 2014 Season, Barrington Stage is introducing an 8-Show Combo Pass which includes 8 shows for the price of 6 – a savings of up to 30% or more off the 2014 single ticket prices. 8-Show Combo passes include front orchestra section A seating at all three summer shows and the fall show at the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage plus tickets to all four St. Germain Stage shows.
Flexible 7-Show Combo Passes and Mainstage Passes are also on sale now and start at just $60. Passes for the St. Germain Stage Season alone are not available at this time, but may be available at a later date.
Patrons who order a 2014 pass by October 31, 2013 will get early access to the best seats beginning January 2, 2014, and the $5 per pass handling fee will be waived.
For more information on 2014 season passes or to order today, call 413-236-8888, visit the Box Office at 30 Union Street or go online to www.barringtonstageco.org.