Corrections or additions?
These reviews were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 22,
1999. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Kiss Me Kate’
In case you were worrying that Broadway might botch
the revival of "Kiss Me Kate" the way it botched "Annie
Get Your Gun," "Kate" is — as in the title of the
show’s deliciously nostalgic waltz — "wunderbar."
Playwright John Guare has done a little tweaking of the original book
by Bella and Sam Spewack, ingeniously fused with Shakespeare’s
Taming of the Shrew," but there is no radical revisionism at work
here. In fact, the respectful tinkering by Guare combined with the
work of director Michael Blackmore and choreographer Kathleen Marshall
is undoubtedly earning thumps up from composer Cole Porter and even
from the Bard himself. Blackmore, who imaginatively directed another
plot-within-a-plot musical, "City of Angels," has done a
job preserving the flavor and integrity of "Kiss Me Kate."
Even as this musical opens with the familiar "Another Opening,
Another Show," you sense it won’t be just another opening. It
begins quietly with one stagehand entering the empty backstage area;
he is followed by more backstage crew climbing about and moving things
that have to be moved. As one voice is added to another, the exuberant
song steadily builds in excitement. The crew is soon joined by members
of the acting company, the dancers and singers, and then finally the
principals, all checking out their out-of-town venue until the entire
stage looks and sounds like Grand Central Station at rush hour. And
what a pulse-quickening rush hour it is.
First produced to general acclaim in 1948, "Kiss Me Kate"
is one of the great ones. It is filled to the brim with terrific
songs, witty dialogue, and dancing that is (as if you didn’t know)
"Too Darn Hot." An exciting dancing highlight, set in the
alley behind the theater on a hot night following a performance,
a showcase for the fine dancer Stanley Wayne Mathis and the company,
as they switch gears from limp and languid to lusty and loose.
"Kiss Me Kate" is the kind of smart, raucous, and rousing
musical comedy that would seem to have vanished forever. The Spewaks
fashioned the cleverly entwined plot (supposedly inspired by the
thespian duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) to parallel the
problems of the tempestuous Lily Vanessi and the vain Fred Graham,
a forever battling ex-married show biz couple, with the characters
they play — Katharine and Petruchio — in "The Taming of
And what a marvelous casting coup to have Brian Stokes and Marin
who co-starred together in "Ragtime," reunited as the
romantic show biz team that fights to the finish backstage and
This pair brings unexpected panache to the whole show. Mitchell’s
rich baritone voice and comely countenance are perfectly suited to
the egotistical poses he assumes in the prose-song, "I’ve Come
to Wive it Wealthily in Padua." And what fun it is to watch the
gorgeous Mazzie turn from snarling hellcat to beguiling heroine in
her finale, "I’m Ashamed That Women Are So Simple," inspired
by Katharine’s sly lecture to "the ladies."
With "So In Love" and "I Hate Men" to give Lili’s
and Fred’s bickering and baiting pungent punctuation, and "Tom,
Dick or Harry" and "I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily,"
Katharine and Petruchio complimentary equations, it is a joy to watch
Mazzie and Stokes bring equally sharp images to their respective
equally sharp images. You can expect the company’s antics in old
cued by the hilariously repetitive, "We Open in Venice," to
provoke laughter. But this is tame compared to the laughs generated
by Michael Mulheren and Lee Wilkof, as two stone-faced gangsters,
who stop the show with their rendition of "Brush Up Your
This is surely one of the best musical comedy scripts ever to address
the eternal battle of the sexes. The only significant alteration made
by Guare is to emphasize the sexist attitude of Lilli’s fiance,
Harrison Howell (Ron Holgate), an autocratic woman-chaser with his
eyes on the presidency and his hands on another prized possession,
There’s a lulu of a sub-plot that involves a flirtatious actress (Amy
Spanger) and her gambling boyfriend (Michael Berresse, in an awesomely
acrobatic performance). Their songs, "Why Can’t You Behave"
and "Always True to You (in My Fashion)," are audaciously
performed. No brush up is needed to appreciate the artistry of Robin
Wagner’s big and bountiful settings and Martin Pakledinaz’s snappy
and silly costumes. Say no more than "Kiss Me Kate."
— Simon Saltzman
New York. $25 to $80. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
Having just had the pleasure of seeing the ever rascally
Eli Wallach in Anne Meara’s new play at the George Street Playhouse,
I was reminded of how impressed I was with this grand actor’s
as Solomon, the appraiser, seven years ago in the Roundabout Theater
production of Arthur Miller’s "The Price." I had forgotten
how absolutely brilliant this undervalued play is. The excellent
currently on Broadway is a fitting companion piece to this season’s
earlier acclaimed production of Miller’s "Death of a
In fact, it stands ever more firmly at the forefront of the Miller
And how fitting that we can end this century with these two great
works of American dramatic literature. Like a long overdue rematch
between two heavyweight contenders, the resurrected conflict between
two estranged brothers in "The Price" remains, as always,
an entertaining but also tension-filled slice of life.
Forced by family circumstance to come to grips with the past as well
as the future, one brother — an unmotivated and discouraged
policeman about to be retired — and the other — a
and successful surgeon reconnecting with life after a breakdown —
are thrown into a memory-filled arena that is as real as it is
Theatrical realism, in order not to be boring, is generally viewed
as an intensification of life. But it is to Miller’s credit, as well
as to the credit of director James Naughton, that this very human
but agonizing play succeeds not so much with crafty intensification,
but by its subjective implications.
The implications of "The Price" are relatively simple: over
a lifetime, we must take responsiblity for the myriad choices we make.
Having forfeited his college career in order to care for his father
(an emotional and financial victim of the Great Depression), the cop
finds himself, 16 years after the father’s death, in the attic of
a Manhattan brownstone, bargaining with a 90-year-old second-hand
Presumably left alone by his anxious wife to negotiate with this
wheeler-dealer on a price for all the furnishings and nostalgic
the cop is suddenly confronted by the appearance of his brother. The
play — a series of extraordinary riveting confrontations —
implies more than it discloses. As we discover from the verbal round
robin, the truth of the past is generally clouded by our emotions.
There is no lack of humor, particularly as compressed into the role
of the appraiser. Bob Dishy is absolutely sensational as the
90-year-old Solomon, the appraiser who can still find time in the
middle of the deal of the century to sit down and eat a hard-boiled
egg, claim he was once in the British Navy, as well as part of an
acrobatic team ("They should rest in peace, I worked at the
Dishy has reinvented this Second Avenue psychologist with a
relaxed charm. Until he is relegated to a back room, the old appraiser
referees the opening rounds with his philosophically profound grab-bag
of New York-styled Jewish-isms.
As the repressed skeletons in the attic begin their dance, the age-old
ritual of fraternal misunderstandings is played out with great
It is difficult not to shout out loud as we root for one and then
the other. Giving a performance of ever-increasing poignancy, Jeffrey
DeMunn, as Victor the cop, creates a devastating portrait of an
loser. Part smug, but resolutely honest, Harris Yulin gives the role
of the surgeon just the right degree of pragmatic righteousness. And
in a very difficult role, Lizbeth Mackay, as the cop’s wife, does
amazingly well for a complex character that is continually searching
for the key to unlock her true feelings.
The Williamstown Theater Festival first presented this production
on August 19, 1999. As he did there, Naughton has directed this
play with all the patience and attention to its emotional demands
and physical detail that it deserves. Some of the mammoth Victorian
pieces that were gathering dust in Michael Brown’s masterfully
attic setting, look to be a bargain at any cost. The same can be said
for "The Price." HHH
— Simon Saltzman
$25 to $65. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For
listings call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline. The TKTS same-day, half-price ticket booth at Times
Square (Broadway & 47th) is open daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening
performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Wednesday and Saturday matinees;
and noon to closing for Sunday matinees. The lower Manhattan booth,
at 2 World Trade Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to
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checks only. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.
A Broadway ticket line at 212-302-4111 gives information on Broadway,
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