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Brush Up Your Shakespeare!


A friend of mine, Mike Corda (photo left), was in the original company of Kiss Me, Kate when it opened on Broadway in 1948. Since then he has had a successful career as a songwriter. But Kate was part of his beginnings and we had the following conversation reflecting on that experience.

VJ: Fifty-one years ago, this coming December, December 30th (1948) to be exact, something happened on Broadway.

MC: Right.

VJ: And you were there.

MC: And I was there and I'm proud to say I was because it was a very special event for me. I was a young man in my early twenties...I was a bassist, bass player, and of course the event you are referring to is Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter's wonderful Broadway show.

VJ: At that time Brooks Atkinson was the reviewer for the New York Times and he said that it was a "baffling miracle", Ward Moorehouse, who was writing for the Sun in those days said "Kiss Me, Kate struck gold last night." It's been said that the audience went crazy on opening night and you, being part of the orchestra in the pit, I don't know if you remember this, after the actors had done the songs "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True To You in My Fashion", the audience demanded more with screams of "Encore!"

MC: Well there were many, many encores throughout the first few months. The high point of the show, for me, was seeing Cole Porter himself sitting in the tenth row. He was there almost every night for the first ten weeks.

VJ: It played for what? A little over two years?

MC: 1,077 performances...to be accurate. I stayed with the entire run. I remember it was a great experience for me because it was a large orchestra, comparatively large for theater. I think we had, somewhere about 21, or 22 musicians. What was unusual was that the shape of the pit, for some reason, didn't allow the bass and the drums to be together as they usually are. The drummer was on one end of the pit and I was about 30 yards away from him, but we did okay anyhow. The pianist was in the middle with all the strings and the horns...

VJ: Right, right.

MC: ...and I remember opening night. Cole Porter, of course. It was an atmosphere that. . .

VJ: Everybody in tuxedos and gowns. . .

MC: Oh yeah, it was Broadway at its peak. I didn't realize it at that time but Cole Porter and his songs had a great influence on me...as a creative person, in my becoming a songwriter.

VJ: When you were finished with Kiss Me, Kate did you go into other musicals?

MC: No, Kiss Me, Kate was the last musical I did. I did one prior to that with the same conductor...it was Nancy Walker's Look Ma, I'm Dancing. You heard of that?

VJ: Oh yeah...

MC: It was written by Hugh Martin. It was one of the few times he wrote both the music and lyrics.

VJ: You know, there is talk of a revival of Kate on Broadway. It's amazing that all those wonderful musicals, like Oklahoma!, AnnieGet Your Gun and things from that period have been revived, but Kiss Me, Kate hasn't in all these years. Do you think, like a lot of those musicals from that period are dated with the book and stuff...do you think Kiss Me, Kate is dated or has to be updated?

MC: No, I don't and I'll tell you why I don't think it's dated. The story is, everybody knows, is a story within a story. It was about Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and from my standpoint, I don't see anything that could be passé.

VJ: It's interesting, just the other day we were talking about the cast and the next day in the Times was a story about Patricia Morison...

MC: There are very few of us left...Patricia, isn't that something else!

VJ: She sang "Wunderbar" and...

MC: She sang "Wunderbar" and "So In Love"...that was a duet for them. Later on, as a reprise in the second act, Alfred Drake sang "So In Love". And we used that song for an exit march.

VJ: Huh?

MC: When the audience at the end of the show is leaving, they refer to that as an exit march. It's not really a march, but you know what I mean.

VJ: And of course, in June, and I believe it was only the first or second year of the Tony Awards but anyhow, Kiss Me, Kate won the Tony for Best Musical.

MC: I think it was the first.

(Note: 1949 was the first time a Best Musical Award was given. In the two prior years, Actors and plays were honored, so Kiss Me, Kate was the very first musical to covet the Best Musical Tony Award.)

VJ: Incidentally, Kiss Me, Kate was released on 78 R.P.M. and as an LP album in June of 1949. So buyers had their choice of format. However, historically, it was the first Broadway cast album released as an L.P.

MC: Is that right? I didn't know that.

VJ: And now, the original recording has been remastered with the original orchestra, meaning you, hahaha, I hope you're getting royalties.

MC: No, musicians never get royalties. You get paid for your work and that's the end of it. The performers I don't think participate in that.

VJ: In any event, Sony did the remastering in digital sound and added the full overture.

MC: That's great. I'll have to get a copy. Just the other morning the local radio station played "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" which I hadn't heard in years on radio, so obviously the kids are becoming aware of the show. And that was a kick for me.

It's time to Brush Up Your Shakespeare! Broadway's musical comedy knock-out, KISS ME, KATE with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Samuel and Bella Spewack starring Tony Award nominees Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie in a brand new musical production directed by Michael Blakemore, choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, music direction by Paul Gemignani, sets by Robin Wagner, costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski and sound design by Tony Meola. The musical will begin performances on October 25 and open on Thursday, November 18 at the Martin Beck Theatre (302 West 45th Street).

Tickets are available as of August 1, 1999 through Telecharge: (212) 239-6200 (24 hrs./7 days); outside metro New York (800)432-7250. Groups: (212)239-6262; (212)889-4300. Beginning September 27, 1999 tickets are available in person at the Martin Beck Theatre box office (302 West 45th St). Ticket prices are as follows: week night performances at 8PM- $80, $65, $25; All weekend performances- $80 and $65; Wednesday matinees $75, $60 and $25.

See you next Sunday!


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