Currently, this spring’s production of Kiss Me, Kate is the only musical revival announced for the 2019 Broadway season, but its stars Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase promise it won’t be the traditional restaging you expect. Clad in glamorous costumes from Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham, the stars spoke with Vulture at the show’s first photo shoot, and they promised that the essential elements of Samuel and Bella Spewack and Cole Porter’s 1948 musical (about feuding actors staging a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew) will be in place, but noted that there might be some aspects that need a second look.
“Of course you’re not going to update it, really. But you’re telling this play in this time, in this consciousness,” said Chase, who’s returning to Broadway after spending time as a country star on TV in Nashville, “The estate, rightly so, says, ‘Don’t change too much,’ because we don’t want to change what this show really is, but I think there are things within it.” He noted that the show’s production team will meet before rehearsals to talk about the script, which, like those of other recent revivals (e.g., Carousel or My Fair Lady), depicts dated gender dynamics potentially ripe for revision. That team includes director Scott Ellis as well as lyricist Amanda Green, who will contribute additional material to the revival.
“I think that you can look at it and be overwhelmed with how much needs to be reexamined,” O’Hara said of Kiss Me, Kate. “Then, you can step back and watch it for the period that it is, to see how far we’ve come.” To that end, O’Hara said she was impressed by how little Green had suggested altering — in some cases, only a word — in order to shift the overall interpretation. “My very last song is ‘I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple,” O’Hara said. “I believe it will be that ‘I Am Ashamed That Humans Are So Simple.’ We’re not trying to change it to the opposite effect — I’m ashamed that men are so simple, or something. We’re trying to unify, to find some sort of coverage that includes everybody being fallible.”
There are also ways in which the leads may simply approach the standard material in their own way. “For me, there’s never been a reason to do a revival in there unless I make it something different,” O’Hara, a Tony winner for The King and I, said, noting that she doesn’t want to “throw actors under the bus” as a profession by making the central relationship too silly, and that she wants to find a new angle on Vanessi’s rousing solo “I Hate Men.” To O’Hara, at a moment when women’s anger is fiercer than ever, the character’s anger isn’t a joke: “It’s to be carefully crafted and not throwing things and ranting and raving so that men can toss us off as shrewish, naggy witches.”
Any new take the two are considering on Kiss Me, Kate won’t preclude the show’s essential comedy, however. Chase and O’Hara worked together both in a benefit reading of the musical and other productions, including a 100th anniversary production of Oklahoma! in Oklahoma. They are excited to reunite for Kate, which starts performances February 14 at Studio 54. “We just like to make each other laugh,” Chase said.
If there’s an advantage to doing a revival, it’s that the base elements are already there. The music, for instance, does already work. “If you can lose yourself in Cole Porter’s score, you do feel something that’s worthy of hope,” O’Hara said. “Toe-tapping and gorgeous dance numbers that’ll be choreographed so beautifully, that old-fashioned musical comedy that just makes people happy — there’s nothing wrong with that right now.”