Friday, September 11, 2015

He Didn't Want to Do It

Cole Porter didn’t want to do it.

 The legendary songwriter didn’t want to take a chance on a musical comedy based on, of all things, a Shakespeare play. How could that entertain a Broadway audience?

 He’d written his biggest hit, Anything Goes, some 14 years before. Musicals were changing, and he wasn’t sure he could change with them. Besides, he didn’t think the writers he worked with, Bella and Samuel Spewack, would want to mess around with Shakespeare either.

 He was right about that. When the producers approached them, Bella retorted that she hated The Taming of the Shrew—or at least she did when she read it in high school. Definitely not interested.

But producer Arnold Saint Subber had a vision. While still a young stage manager, he observed an offstage argument between the lead actors in a production of The Taming of the Shrew—who happened to be the most celebrated acting couple of their time, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

 The couple's conflict was an unintended but hilarious counterpoint to the scripted couple's conflicts in the play they were performing. He had his inspiration: a comedy that wove together offstage antics with this Shakespeare play could bring together the brightest and funniest of both worlds.

 In the end his enthusiasm overcame all the objections. The Spewacks came up with an ingenious script, and Cole Porter wrote 25 songs—17 made it into the show—for what would be his most successful musical.

 Kiss Me, Kate opened on Broadway at the end of 1948 to ecstatic reviews, and was an immediate hit. It ran for more than two years, and became one of the first Broadway shows with more than 1,000 first-run performances.  It won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score for Cole Porter, Best Author for the Spewacks, Best Producer for Saint Subber and his partner Lemuel Ayers.  Fifty years later, its Broadway revival also won multiple Tonys.

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