PORTER: Kiss Me, Kate (Original Broadway Cast) (1949) / Let's Face It (1941) (Naxos: 8.120788)
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Kiss Me, Kate
Original Broadway Cast 1949
Let's Face It
Original Cast & Studio Recordings 1941-1942
Music and Lyrics by Cole PorterThe overture is about to start.
You cross your fingers and hold your heart.
Those lines from the opening number ofKiss Me, Kate were probably running throughthe brains of everyone connected with the nowclassicmusical when it opened on 30 December1948.
For most of the major players involved, thisshow was either the big break or the lastchance: the musical that would put them on themap, or knock them off the board forever.
Saint Subber was a stage manager whodreamed of being a producer; this was his onebig opportunity. Patricia Morison was a Bpicture ingenue who at 33 knew she had tobecome a star this time out or give up herdreams.
Bella Spewack had written numeroussuccessful shows with her husband Sam, but hehad left her for a younger woman and she feltshe needed a hit on her own to redeem herself.
Alfred Drake had scored big in 1943'sOklahoma! but had been involved in five yearsof flops since then.
And then there was Cole Porter. Throughoutthe 1920s and '30s, his name had beensynonymous with smart, sophisticated musicals.
His score for Anything Goes alone would haveearned him a place in theatre history.
But a tragic riding accident in 1937 had lefthim crippled and his work began a slowdecline. By the time he started Kiss Me Kate, hehadn't had a hit in five years, while Rodgers andHammerstein and Irving Berlin were enjoyingthe biggest smashes of their careers.
Clearly a lot was at stake here, and the factthat a musicalization of Shakespeare's TheTaming of the Shrew was the vehicle thateveryone pinned their anxious hopes on showshow desperate they were, because no one onBroadway thought it was a good idea.
Not even the mitigating factor that it wasactually a play within a play about a recentlydivorced diva-ish husband and wife whohappened to be doing a musical ofShakespeare's battle-of-the-sexes comedy madeit sound like a winner to the Shubert Alleyregulars.
The question of who came up with theconcept has never truly been settled. SaintSubber suggests the idea was his and stemmedfrom the days he was on tour with Alfred Luntand Lynn Fontanne and watched the marriedstars bickering onstage as well as off.
Bella Spewack insists she was firstapproached about just turning Shrew into amusical and that she originated the backstagestory, while Cole Porter is on record as sayingthe whole thing began with Alfred Drake.
Everyone agrees that Porter took a long timein being convinced of the project, but thedynamic Bella wouldn't take no for an answerand the songwriter finally relented.
One reason for Porter's reluctance may havebeen the fact that he was in what he later called'complete agony' during the period, due to anabscess on one of his badly damaged legs. But,self-medicating with alcohol, he plowed ahead,usually writing in the wee small hours of themorning and awakening a not-delightedSpewack to sing her selections like Why Can'tYou Behave?Still Porter plowed ahead, driving past painand insecurity to create his finest score. Someof the numbers (Where Is The Life that Late ILed?,Were Thine That Special Face and IAm Ashamed That Women Are So Simple)were inspired by actual lines of Shakespeare,while numbers like Too Darn Hot, AlwaysTrue To You In My Fashion and So In Lovewere vintage Porter.
He recycled one old number called \WaltzDown The Aisle" which had been cut fromAnything Goes, fitted it with a new lyric andrechristened it Wunderbar.
On the other hand, no other Porter scorecontained so many quality songs discardedbefore the opening for one reason or another,including the haunting "We Shall Never BeYounger" and the naughty "What Does YourServant Dream About?".
Spewack was struggling in her own way asmuch as Porter was and although it killed her todo so, she finally turned to her estrangedhusband Sam to help with the book. He cameup with the subplot about the debt-collectinggangsters which gives the show much of itscomic zip and inspired one of Porter's wittiestsongs, Brush Up Your Shakespeare.
A legendary case of 'what do the expertsknow?' happened at the final run-through beforethe show finished rehearsing in New York. Aninsecure Saint Subber had cognoscenti like MossHart, Edna Ferber and Agnes DeMille watch theproduction and offer their advice. They all toldhim it was doomed to failure.
However, when it opened in Philadelphia on2 December 1948, the critics and audiences fellin love with it instantly and only a few minorcuts were necessary before it faced its Broadwaydebut four weeks later with similar wildlyenthusiastic results.
It ran for 1077 performances,won five TonyAwards,was turned into a successful film andhas been frequently revived over the years mostrecently in a 1999 Broadway version that starredBrian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie.
This recording was made by the completeoriginal cast on 13 January 1949, shortly afterthe opening, and features most of the score,although several numbers were cut due tolength including the first act ending that givesthe show its title (although a fragment of it canbe heard in the finale on this recording).
The other thing worth noting is that what iscalled the Overture is actually the "Entr'acte",played before Act II. Kiss Me, Kate as originallyperformed had no Overture.
After all these years,we can still enjoy thelush theatricality of Alfred Drake, the razor-likecontrol of Patricia Morison, the saucy charm ofLisa Kirk and the sheer cheekiness of HaroldLang. A great cast in a great score, no matterhow hard it was to get together.
Also on this recording are nine selectionsthat cover much of the score from Porter's1941 popular hit Let's Face It!This was a typical wartime romp, based ona 1925 farce called The Cradle Snatchers. Inthe original version, three bored society wivesflirt with a trio of jazz age gigolos. In the musical,the men become recent draftees (althoughthe show opened two months before PearlHarbor brought America into World War II).
The star of the show was Danny Kaye,riding high from his smash debut earlier in1941 in Lady In the Dark. Porter actuallyallowed Kaye's wife, Sylvia Fine to interpolatesome specialty comedy numbers of her owninto the score for her husband, but Porterhimself came up with two winners for thecomedian, Farming and Let's Not Talk AboutLove, both of which Kaye romps through on a1942 recording.
The overly earnest cabaret artist who calledherself 'The Incomparable Hildegarde' alwaysloved Porter's work, although the feeling wasn'tmutual. She recorded You Irritate Me So andA Little Rumba Numba in October of 1941.
Mary Jane Walsh was a popular Broadwaysinger of the period who was also in theoriginal cast of Let's Face It! and she is heardon a November 1941 version of three selectionsfrom the show, I Hate You Darling and AceIn the Hole and Ev'rything I Love.
Period bandleader William Scotty and hisCotillion Room Orchestra complete thecollection with two medleys from November1941 that cover five songs from the score.
Let's Face It! shows Porter in a purelyconventional vein, no better or worse than thematerial he had to work with. But Kiss Me,Kate, on the other hand, demonstrates thegenius he was capable of when given a projectthat could truly inspire him.