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ClassicsOnline Home » PORTER: Kiss Me, Kate (Original Broadway Cast) (1949) / Let's Face It (1941)
The overture is about to start.
You cross your fingers and hold your heart.
Those lines from the opening number of
Kiss Me, Kate were probably running through
the brains of everyone connected with the nowclassic
musical when it opened on 30 December
For most of the major players involved, this
show was either the big break or the last
chance: the musical that would put them on the
map, or knock them off the board forever.
Saint Subber was a stage manager who
dreamed of being a producer; this was his one
big opportunity. Patricia Morison was a B
picture ingénue who at 33 knew she had to
become a star this time out or give up her
Bella Spewack had written numerous
successful shows with her husband Sam, but he
had left her for a younger woman and she felt
she needed a hit on her own to redeem herself.
Alfred Drake had scored big in 1943’s
Oklahoma! but had been involved in five years
of flops since then.
And then there was Cole Porter. Throughout
the 1920s and ’30s, his name had been
synonymous with smart, sophisticated musicals.
His score for Anything Goes alone would have
earned him a place in theatre history.
But a tragic riding accident in 1937 had left
him crippled and his work began a slow
decline. By the time he started Kiss Me Kate, he
hadn’t had a hit in five years, while Rodgers and
Hammerstein and Irving Berlin were enjoying
the biggest smashes of their careers.
Clearly a lot was at stake here, and the fact
that a musicalization of Shakespeare’s The
Taming of the Shrew was the vehicle that
everyone pinned their anxious hopes on shows
how desperate they were, because no one on
Broadway thought it was a good idea.
Not even the mitigating factor that it was
actually a play within a play about a recently
divorced diva-ish husband and wife who
happened to be doing a musical of
Shakespeare’s battle-of-the-sexes comedy made
it sound like a winner to the Shubert Alley
The question of who came up with the
concept has never truly been settled. Saint
Subber suggests the idea was his and stemmed
from the days he was on tour with Alfred Lunt
and Lynn Fontanne and watched the married
stars bickering onstage as well as off.
Bella Spewack insists she was first
approached about just turning Shrew into a
musical and that she originated the backstage
story, while Cole Porter is on record as saying
the whole thing began with Alfred Drake.
Everyone agrees that Porter took a long time
in being convinced of the project, but the
dynamic Bella wouldn’t take no for an answer
and the songwriter finally relented.
One reason for Porter’s reluctance may have
been the fact that he was in what he later called
‘complete agony’ during the period, due to an
abscess on one of his badly damaged legs. But,
self-medicating with alcohol, he plowed ahead,
usually writing in the wee small hours of the
morning and awakening a not-delighted
Spewack to sing her selections like Why Can’t
Still Porter plowed ahead, driving past pain
and insecurity to create his finest score. Some
of the numbers (Where Is The Life that Late I
Led?,Were Thine That Special Face and I
Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple)
were inspired by actual lines of Shakespeare,
while numbers like Too Darn Hot, Always
True To You In My Fashion and So In Love
were vintage Porter.
He recycled one old number called “Waltz
Down The Aisle” which had been cut from
Anything Goes, fitted it with a new lyric and
rechristened it Wunderbar.
On the other hand, no other Porter score
contained so many quality songs discarded
before the opening for one reason or another,
including the haunting “We Shall Never Be
Younger” and the naughty “What Does Your
Servant Dream About?”.
Spewack was struggling in her own way as
much as Porter was and although it killed her to
do so, she finally turned to her estranged
husband Sam to help with the book. He came
up with the subplot about the debt-collecting
gangsters which gives the show much of its
comic zip and inspired one of Porter’s wittiest
songs, Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
A legendary case of ‘what do the experts
know?’ happened at the final run-through before
the show finished rehearsing in New York. An
insecure Saint Subber had cognoscenti like Moss
Hart, Edna Ferber and Agnes DeMille watch the
production and offer their advice. They all told
him it was doomed to failure.
However, when it opened in Philadelphia on
2 December 1948, the critics and audiences fell
in love with it instantly and only a few minor
cuts were necessary before it faced its Broadway
debut four weeks later with similar wildly
It ran for 1077 performances,won five Tony
Awards,was turned into a successful film and
has been frequently revived over the years most
recently in a 1999 Broadway version that starred
Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie.
This recording was made by the complete
original cast on 13 January 1949, shortly after
the opening, and features most of the score,
although several numbers were cut due to
length including the first act ending that gives
the show its title (although a fragment of it can
be heard in the finale on this recording).
The other thing worth noting is that what is
called the Overture is actually the “Entr’acte”,
played before Act II. Kiss Me, Kate as originally
performed had no Overture.
After all these years,we can still enjoy the
lush theatricality of Alfred Drake, the razor-like
control of Patricia Morison, the saucy charm of
Lisa Kirk and the sheer cheekiness of Harold
Lang. A great cast in a great score, no matter
how hard it was to get together.
Also on this recording are nine selections
that cover much of the score from Porter’s
1941 popular hit Let’s Face It!
This was a typical wartime romp, based on
a 1925 farce called The Cradle Snatchers. In
the original version, three bored society wives
flirt with a trio of jazz age gigolos. In the musical,
the men become recent draftees (although
the show opened two months before Pearl
Harbor brought America into World War II).
The star of the show was Danny Kaye,
riding high from his smash debut earlier in
1941 in Lady In the Dark. Porter actually
allowed Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine to interpolate
some specialty comedy numbers of her own
into the score for her husband, but Porter
himself came up with two winners for the
comedian, Farming and Let’s Not Talk About
Love, both of which Kaye romps through on a
The overly earnest cabaret artist who called
herself ‘The Incomparable Hildegarde’ always
loved Porter’s work, although the feeling wasn’t
mutual. She recorded You Irritate Me So and
A Little Rumba Numba in October of 1941.
Mary Jane Walsh was a popular Broadway
singer of the period who was also in the
original cast of Let’s Face It! and she is heard
on a November 1941 version of three selections
from the show, I Hate You Darling and Ace
In the Hole and Ev’rything I Love.
Period bandleader William Scotty and his
Cotillion Room Orchestra complete the
collection with two medleys from November
1941 that cover five songs from the score.
Let’s Face It! shows Porter in a purely
conventional vein, no better or worse than the
material he had to work with. But Kiss Me,
Kate, on the other hand, demonstrates the
genius he was capable of when given a project
that could truly inspire him.
Last Albums Viewed
PORTER: Kiss Me, Kate (Original Broadway Cast) (19...