Every decade or two a revival of a classic Broadway musical comes along that does everything right; so much so that it reaffirms the reason for reviving old shows in the first place. Kiss Me, Kate, which opened last night, is our rich and delightful reward for having endured a number of less than stellar musical revivals over the last several years. No longer can disgruntled theatregoers moan that Broadway just isn't what it used to be. It is, and it's even better than you remember. There's a golden glow emanating from the stage of the Martin Beck Theatre on West 45th street right now, a beacon calling you to come see a musical, the likes of which legends are made.
Which isn't to say that the whole thing is perfect, it's not. In an otherwise commanding and almost heroic performance, Brian Stokes Mitchell seems strangely reluctant to show us the physical chemistry that needs to exist between Fred Graham and the two women in his life, Lilli Vanessi and Lois Lane. And, he has been let down badly by the director and choreographer in "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?", his big second act number, left to wander the stage aimlessly, waiving his arms around for no apparent reason. But these are minor quibbles and far outweighed by the strength, force, and pure musical virtuosity of his performance, which confirms once and for all his status as a Broadway star of the highest order.
There was a time when, if you used the term "Leading Lady," you were understood to mean an extraordinarily talented, fashionably dressed, elegantly coiffed woman of grand and charming manner (and bloody temperament) who, if she wasn't particularly beautiful, made you think she was. Such is the Lilli Vanessi of Marin Mazzie, which could not have been bettered by Lynn Fontanne, herself. If she is a bit too willing to go anywhere and do anything to land a line or lyric (what she does with "I Hate Men" comes to mind), ultimately everything works, with a payoff during the final seconds of the show that is as surprising as it is delightful.
The lovely, calculating and slightly daffy Lois Lane of Amy Spanger and the sexy, caddish Bill Calhoun played by the ubiquitous Michael Berresse are given several chances to steal the show and score big every time. Mere words cannot do justice to what the gangsters, Lee Wilkof and Michael Mulheren, manage to get away with, culminating in a rendition of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" which will leave you helpless with laughter and begging for more.
While all the technical and design elements of Kiss Me, Kate - direction, choreography, sets, costumes, lights, etc. - are well above average, special note should be made of the musical direction provided by Paul Gemignani. What sets this production so far above every other musical currently playing on Broadway is the sound of it. This is a Broadway musical that sounds like a Broadway musical! Mr. Gemignani, thank you. (Note to the producers: Don't go and screw everything up by cutting musicians from the pit.)
Kiss Me, Kate Music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. Directed by Michael Blakemore. Choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Musical direction by Paul Gemignani. Scenic design by Robin Wagner. Costume design by Martin Pakledinaz. Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski. Starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Amy Spanger, and Michael Berresse. Also starring Merwin Foard, John Horton, Adriane Lenox, Stanley Wayne Mathis, Michael Mulheren, Lee Wilkof, and Ron Holgate.
Theatre: Martin Beck Theatre, 302 West 45th Street New York, NY 10036 (between 8th and 9th Avenue)
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 5 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Schedule: Monday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM. Beginning November 22 Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM (2 PM on 12/26). Added performances Friday 11/26 at 2 PM, Monday 12/20 at 8 PM, Sunday 12/26 at 7 PM, Monday 12/27 at 8 PM, Tuesday 12/28 at 2 PM, Thursday 12/30 at 2 PM. No performances Thursday 11/25, Friday 12/24, Saturday 12/25 at 2 PM, Thursday 12/30 at 8 PM, Friday 12/31, Saturday 1/1 at 2 PM.
Ticket prices: $80, $65 & $25, Friday through Sunday $80 & $65, Wednesday matinee $75, $60 & $25. There is a $1 Theatre Restoration Charge (for the restoration and preservation of the theatre) added to the price of each ticket.
Tickets online: http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200, or outside the NY metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Closed Sunday. Sunday (beginning 11/28) NOON to 7 PM.
Tickets by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets by snail mail: Kiss Me, Kate, PO Box 998 Times Square Station New York, NY 10108-0998 MUST INCLUDE $1 RESTORATION CHARGE (PER TICKET)
See Kiss Me, Kate on KIDS NIGHT ON BROADWAY, Tuesdays 1/25 and 2/1 at 7 PM. Purchase one regular price adult ticket and receive one free Kid's ticket (ages 4-18). The KIDS NIGHT ON BROADWAY free ticket offer is not available online, please call Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200, or outside the NY metro area at (800) 722-4990. (Phone service charge applies for the free ticket). The free ticket offer is also available at the Box Office. The KIDS NIGHT ON BROADWAY free ticket offer ends on Sunday, November 21.