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The Lunts' SHREW (long)
Posted by: showtunetrivia 01:03 pm EDT 03/11/19
In reply to: "Shrew" / "Kate" - Whistler 04:45 am EDT 03/11/19

I've researched the Lunts' THE TAMING OF THE SHREW extensively, and whether of not it was the direct inspiration for KMK (San
Subber says yes, Bella Spewack says no--and I could bore you to tears with all that), their drastically edited SHREW is very much the basis for the musical SHREW Fred Graham is staging, right down to lifting specific bits of stage business. Because KMK's director John C. Wilson was the coproducer of the Lunts' SHREW and knew it quite well.

So here's some food for thought:

The text:
the Lunts and Harry Wagstaff Gribble (I vow to one day name a fantasy character "Wagstaff Gribble") approached the play not as a high comedy, but, as Lynn put it, "a flapdoodle farce," decked out in circus and carnival trappings. The Lunts focused on character development and stage business, while Gribble helped the edit. They shifted the order of scenes (especially Bianca's), transposed lines, eliminated repetitions, and interrupted all long speeches....save Kate's final one. The result played more like a fast-paced modern piece.

The 1594 quarto text of the taming of A shrew and the 1623 Folio text of the taming of THE shrew:
the Lunts brought back Christopher Sly, the drunken tinker found sleeping by a nobleman out hunting. The noble plays a prank on Sly, and instrucfs a froupe of strolling players to perform for him and treat him as a lord. This character was so little used in thirties staging, one critic though the Lunts invented Sly. Sly got most of the transposed lines, and Richard Whorf, who played him, improvised constantly--as did the rest of the cast.

The play-within-the-play:
Using the Sly Induction let the Lunts emphasize that their audience, too, was watching a play-within-a-play, and that was the core of the show. Nearly everything they did reinforced this. Why? The concept put the audience at one further remove from the inherent sexism of the original. The production began with the players (in capes, black hats, white domino masks) pulling their harpist in a wagon. Sydney Greenstreet (Baptista) led the way, pounding a drum. Lunt snd the actor who would play Grumio began pulling costumes from the wagon,,while acrobats made a human ladder to hang the backdrop of Padua. The carnival theme added both a ridiculous and a fantasy element: acrobats, tumblers, four dwarfs, and a panto horse. Sly (from his seat in a box) admonished late comers and heckled not only the actors, but his fellow viewers for not laughing enough at jokes (or, conversely, for laughing at jokes he thought were poor). The Lunts also included deliberately missed entrances and bungled lines for the entire company. Even the music was exaggerated: sappy harp arpeggios for romantic lines, beer-garden boisterous tunes for the horseplay. So, throughout the entire thing, that 1935-36 audience knew damn well they were watching a play-within-a-play about the battle between Kate and Perruchio, right up to....

The ending:
Kate is a right spitfire from the start, but Fontanne managed to find little ways to soften her, even from her initial meeting with Petruchio. I'll spare you those, and jump to the end, since this whole thread started with the new KMK ending. During her final soliloquy, she shows she still has the fire within: she smacks the Widow for laughing and her final hand gesture ("My hand is ready, may it do him ease") strikes Petruchio's cheek. On the 1939 tour, Fontanne crooked a finger at the audience during her speech, as if "having a private conversation about dealing with their menfolk," according to one reviewer. Then the happy couple literally sailed into the heavens in a gilded chariot ppulled by two dwarfs, backed by resounding choral music. In the show's final scene, the Lunts used the ending of the quarto text of THE TAMING OF A SHREW: the nobleman's huntsmen return the sleeping Sly to the forest, the lord pays the actors, they pack up the gear and exit. It sounds like the new KMK ending evokes this.

The Lunts's SHREW's influences on KMK:
Lilli and Fred closely match Lillie Louise Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, for starters, though the characters are nothing like the famous pair (Alfred was a demanding director, but not the egomaniac Fred is). As above, KMK uses the "troupe of strolliing players" and the play-within-a-play concept; I adore Porter's line "no Theatre Guild attraction are we," as the Lunts' SHREW was coproduced by the Guild. KMK, however, does not use the Induction or Sly. Director Wilson lifted many staging elements from the Lunts: Kate's delayed entrance; the dead goose from the catwalks (now shot by the gangsters, not Kate); Baptista dithering over the dowry; frequent use of spanking; Kate hiding the sausages in her bosom and biting Petruchio when he expects a kiss; even wielding her wedding bouquet like " a stiletto." Even some of the line reassignments reoccur in KMK Lemuel Ayres did not replicate Clagget Wilson's costumes or Carolyn Hancock's set, but there are similarities in the use of diamond shapes and domino patterns.

Back to real work.

Laura
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Previous: "Shrew" / "Kate" - Whistler 04:45 am EDT 03/11/19
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