Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 122
A new production of Kiss Me, Kate is on Broadway now. It features Cole Porter’s memorable music and Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase as Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham, a bickering divorced couple thrown together when they’re booked to star in a production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. But 1948’s Kiss Me, Kate also duplicates the sexism of the Shakespeare play at its center. You aren’t alone if you’re wondering, “Does Kiss Me, Kate work in 2019?”
We asked Will Chase and Amanda Green. Chase (TV’s Nashville and Broadway’s Something Rotten) stars in the production as Fred Graham, Kiss Me, Kate’s Petruchio figure. Amanda Green is the Tony-nominated lyricist and composer who wrote additional material for the production, a key decision-maker when it came to updating the musical’s book and lyrics. Chase and Green talk to Barbara Bogaev about wrestling with Kiss Me, Kate treatment of women and finding the love at the heart of its script.
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published May 28, 2019. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “My Horse, My Ox, My Ass, My Anything,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Robert Auld, Helena DeGroot, Deb Stathopulos, and Larry Josephson at The Radio Foundation studios in New York. Clips from Kiss Me, Kate come from the Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording, available June 7 from Ghostlight Records.
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WITMORE: Okay, let’s get the most obvious part out of the way first.
[CLIP: “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. John Pankow and Tom McGowan are Kiss Me, Kate’s gangsters.]
Brush up your Shakespeare!
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow!
WITMORE: Kiss Me, Kate is back on Broadway, and you have to wonder: These days, just how do you make that work?
Better mention The Merchant of Venice
When her sweet pound o' flesh you would menace
In her virtue, at first, she defends—well,
Just remind her that All's Well That Ends Well!
And if still she won't give you a bonus
You know what Venus did to Adonis
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they'll all kow-tow…
WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. There haven’t been a lot of successful American musicals based on Shakespeare. Kiss Me, Kate is arguably the best known. It premiered on Broadway in 1948. The story of a battling, divorced couple, working to stage a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew featured a book by Bella and Samuel Spewack and—more importantly—memorable songs by Cole Porter.
[CLIP: “Too Darn Hot” from the Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording.]
It's too darn hot.
It's too darn hot.
I'd like to stop for my baby tonight,
And blow my top for my baby tonight.
WITMORE: But let’s be honest. In an era when Shakespeare theaters are antsy about staging The Taming of the Shrew, how does Broadway manage to pull off a musical with lyrics like this?
[CLIP: “I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua,” from the Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. Will Chase plays Fred Graham, who is playing Petruchio in the musical’s play-within-the-play.]
If her knees now and then should knock,
If her eyes were a wee bit crossed,
Were she wearing the hair she'd lost,
Still the damsel I'll make my dame,
In the dark they are all the same…
WITMORE: It’s a tightrope. But one the producers and the creative team have been willing to walk. We hear about all that now in a conversation with Amanda Green and Will Chase. Amanda is the daughter of the famous Broadway lyricist, Adolph Green, and she was a key decision-maker when it came to updating the book and lyrics. Will Chase plays the role of Fred Graham, and also Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate’s show-within-a-show production of The Taming of the Shrew.
We call this podcast episode “My Horse, My Ox, My Ass, My Anything.” Amanda and Will are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
BOGAEV: You know, I'm really interested to know when it started dawning on all of you what a potentially problematic show this is, Kiss Me, Kate. You know, how well did you know the script? I'm going to start with you, Will.
CHASE: Well, it dawned on me in 1948. No, from the get-go, you know, we did the concert. You know, you do these galas, one-offs, and you're kind of celebrating the show, but you're celebrating the theater, Roundabout, and all that. Then people start talking about, well, I think it's got legs for Broadway, and this and that and the other thing. And I've always loved this score, but of course there are, you know, potential pitfalls. Whenever you’re doing—even if you're doing Taming of the Shrew. Or Kiss Me, Kate.
BOGAEV: Right, they're so intertwined.
CHASE: Yeah, you can't—
BOGAEV: Really, and you have to consider both, and as you say, Kiss Me, Kate is terribly problematic—I mean, not Kiss Me, Kate. Taming of the Shrew is. Amanda, I want to ask this question of you too, how well you knew Taming of the Shrew, but I do know you come from this legendary theater family and—
GREEN: I do. Yes, and I... You know, my dad was writing musicals in the same era, and I grew up—
BOGAEV: Adolph Green.
GREEN: Adolph Green and his partner, Betty Comden, and I grew up around these musicals, knowing them. But Kiss Me, Kate was not on heavy rotation in our house. Nevertheless, I knew all the songs.
BOGAEV: Right, and just to...
GREEN: I don't know how I know them. I know them, you know.
BOGAEV: And just to remind people, Adloph Green, your father, with Betty Comden, did Auntie Mame and Singin' in the Rain and On the Town, I mean, just, and then Phyllis Newman, your mother, is a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress and singer.
Come to think of it, Kiss Me, Kate has its origins also in this old theater legend about Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, another legendary couple doing Taming of the Shrew on Broadway. Which one of you knows that story? Because I don't know more than what I just said.
CHASE: Yeah. What, the Alf—the Lunt/Fontanne...
CHASE: You mean how Kiss Me, Kate came out of that?
CHASE: Because, well, there's differing—You know, there's differing stuff about the Spewacks. I mean, in fact, who was the producer that worked with them to try to get them to write it? Because some people say it's more about the Spewacks.
GREEN: Well, they were separated while they were writing it, and actually there was an article that came out recently in the, I think it's the American Theater magazine, I'm sorry if I get it wrong, but that really Bella Spewack wrote the lion's share of it and at the end they said, “We can't just have your name on it. Nobody wants just your name.” Which is lovely.
BOGAEV: So, they were the fighting pair.
GREEN: Well, they were just not in each other’s lives. She actually wrote the lion's share, and I think her husband did, you know, the gangsters, and you know, punched up the gangsters.
GREEN: So, yeah, they come with their own history.
CHASE: But the Lunt/Fontanne thing was, you know, it was in the lore.
GREEN: Legendary. Yeah.
CHASE: Legendary, so I mean, I think it all feeds that.
GREEN: And they were at each other’s throats, I'm gathering, just like Fred and Lilli?
CHASE: Oh, yeah, and the Shrews they would do—The Taming of The Shrews, you know—was cut down to just those kind of... You know, those grew legendary, those performances of the Taming.
BOGAEV: Of the slapstick?
CHASE: Of the beating and then that stuff, yeah.
CHASE: And, to where, I think that's followed every kind of production of Kiss Me, Kate certainly, and even productions of Taming of the Shrew. For the longest time there were just... I think people forgot to explore the piece and just did what was fashionable, and what was fashionable was these people beating the crap out of each other, and the slapstick stuff. And then once you go back inside both pieces, you go, “Oh, wait a second, the text”...
BOGAEV: “There's more that's problematic!”
CHASE: The text doesn't necessarily, yeah, yeah. Or, I would even argue, the text, in both, kind of supports what we're trying to get at, which is there is a love story in there somewhere.
BOGAEV: So, Amanda, the production brought you on to think about all of this. So, what jumped right out at you as an issue right away, and what came as a slower burn, you know, that you didn't realize would be a problem?
GREEN: I was looking... I was asked to look at both the book and the lyrics, and mostly the book, because the Porter estate is, rightfully, so very protective of Cole Porter's legacy.
BOGAEV: Oh, sure, I was gonna ask you about that.
GREEN: So, I mean, what jumped out at me was, you know, I read through it several times, and many, many more times after that, and I watched the movie. And when you watch the movie, as a woman, you have moments that make you go, “Ooh,” and you don't like the way you feel for this character, for the woman, and you don't like him. It goes from being this fun, you know, two-big-egos-clashing that you love watching, to all of a sudden, you go, “Ooh, I don't like that. Ooh, I feel bad for her. Ooh, he's a jerk”… in a way that it drops you out of this fun thing. So, it was easy to identify the most egregious examples of that.
BOGAEV: The spanking, I'm assuming you're talking about.
GREEN: The spanking. You know, “Women should be struck regularly like a gong”…
BOGAEV: Oh, for instance.
GREEN: For instance.
CHASE: Just off the top of your head.
GREEN: Just off the top of my head. The feeling that she was—yeah, after the spanking, you just go, like—and everybody's like, well, come on! You know? They're forcing her through this thing. She feels a little trapped, you know, and you feel bad.
BOGAEV: And the hostage-taking, even, by the gangsters, does not become funny.
GREEN: It's not funny anymore. It's not fun.
Then, of course, I mean, I listen through the score several times, and there were lyrics that jumped out. One that we did change, that Will and I both came to an agreement that we had to change—
BOGAEV: And you're referring to the song at the end.
GREEN: Well, no, it was just one lyric, “I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua.”
[CLIP: “I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua,” Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. Will Chase plays Fred Graham/Petruchio.]
I've come to wive it wealthily in Padua,
If wealthily then happily in Padua.
If my wife has a bag of gold,
Do I care if the bag be old?
CHASE: At the very end he says...
GREEN: “If she fight...”
CHASE: “If she fight like a raging boar,” and the original lyric is, “I have oft stuck a pig before.”
BOGAEV: So, did you change it?
GREEN: We did.
BOGAEV: And what did you change it to?
If she roar like a winter breeze
On the rough Adriatic seas,
If she screams like a teething brat,
If she scratch like a tiger cat,
If she fight like a raging boar,
I have oft bed a boar before…
GREEN: He's a jerk, but it's still in the realm of like, “Okay, that's his attitude. He's got a swaggering machismo, and he's gonna be”—
CHASE: And then Kate's going to take him to task eventually anyway.
GREEN: Yeah. Yeah.
CHASE: But it doesn't take us out, in that weird aesthetic way, as an audience member going, “Oh, oh, it's gonna be that?”
CHASE: It's almost, I mean, dare I say, I mean, it's almost like, it's not like it, but it's the same thing as having the N-word in a script.
GREEN: I agree.
CHASE: That's like, “Oh. There's no need for that in this telling of this play.”
BOGAEV: And then at the end.
GREEN: There's a song called “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple,” and I just could not see any way around it but rewriting.
[CLIP: “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple,” Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. Kelli O’Hara plays Lilli Vanessi who plays Kate in the musical’s play-within-a-play.]
I am ashamed that people are so simple.
GREEN: The song is a Shakespeare—you know, Shakespeare's text set to music, about why a woman should bow to her husband. Why is her body soft and weak and smooth? “Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,” you know, and she was bound to serve, love, and obey. And since she doesn't have to work, then her internal parts should match her soft, external parts. So, you know...
BOGAEV: Thank you, Shakespeare.
GREEN: Thank you, Shakespeare. You know, so that wasn't... So, that just couldn't fly.
Why are our bodies finite, bound for dust,
The time we share so brief, and yet so dear,
If not to teach our proud and stubborn hearts
To love the best we can, while we are here?
So, mates, hold your tempers…
GREEN: Since it was Shakespeare and his copyright is on it—he's in the public domain—they were okay with that. But also, I think they see that, I think, it's just very problematic, and...
CHASE: Well, they also too, in the original, you know, in the Kiss Me, Kate rather of it we don't go into Kate's speech nearly obviously as much as Shakespeare goes into Kate's speech. That Kate speech is notorious, every actress plays it completely different. Is there a wink? Is it sad and Petruchio realizes? You know, it's all these things. That doesn't happen in Kiss Me, Kate. It's, you know, two stanzas long, and it's kind of like, “Oh… that doesn't kind of fit.”
GREEN: “That’s the takeaway?” She comes back and...
BOGAEV: And it's like, “What?”
GREEN: They’re reunited, and then she's like, “Hiiii”—can I swear on here?—“I'm a piece of [expletive deleted]. Let me...” You know. “I think what I've learned is that I'm a weakling and I should bow before you.”
GREEN: And you're like, “That's not the lesson.”
BOGAEV: No, I mean, it is very confusing.
GREEN: Yeah, yeah.
CHASE: I don't think with these new lyrics, that it's whitewashed in anyway, because I say to her, “Kate, I charge thee”— instead of saying, “Kate, I charge thee, tell these headstrong women what duty they do owe their husbands”… I say, “Kate, tell these headstrong lovers”—including the audience, myself, and everyone—"what duty they do owe their mates.” And then she sings this lovely verse about...
So mates, hold your temper, and humbly put
Your hand ‘neath the sole of your lover’s foot
In token of which duty if he please
My hand is ready,
May it do him ease.
GREEN: You should—
CHASE: You should both submit to each other.
GREEN: You should both submit to each other and, you know, be good to each other.
BOGAEV: This is such an interesting process, because you had to deal with, Do we change Shakespeare? Do we? Yes. Because we can. Do you change Cole Porter? No. Because of copyright. Then you have these other potential minefield lines that come straight out of Shakespeare that are in the play still, Baptista, for instance, Kate and Bianca's father, comes out and has the line, “Woo her, wed her, and bed her and rid the house of her.” I saw it last night, Kiss Me, Kate, with my 24-year-old daughter, and she was... Her eyes were just like saucers.
CHASE: Oh, really? Okay.
GREEN: When that line came?
BOGAEV: She doesn't know the play. She knows Taming of the Shrew, but she doesn't know Kiss Me, Kate, and she was just... She was utterly astounded.
GREEN: By that language?
BOGAEV: Yes, by that language, by a number of those lines.
GREEN: Well, we softened... I actually wanted to get “Bed her” taken out, but I was pushed back against that.
BOGAEV: So, you were fighting these good fights.
GREEN: For “Wooed her, wed her, and rid my house of her.” You know, it's still... Instead of... But I, actually, I have to say I like the rhythm of “Woo her, wed her, and bed her.” I mean, I just... I've gotten... I don't know whether I have Stockholm Syndrome, but I really like that line.
BOGAEV: That though is great, because I was going to ask you if you—There are all sorts of problems with changing lyrics with rhythm, right?
CHASE: True, of course.
BOGAEV: What are your considerations? Because there's another lyric that I thought really stood out, which is, “If my wife has a bag of gold, do I care if the bag be old?”
CHASE: Well, of course, and we talked about specifically that line, which she... When we first started changing things, that one was one that was changed, and I fought it on terms of rhythm and scansion. Because I can't remember what you'd offered, and I'm sure it was great… and my trip too with the… if the Shakespeare in Kiss Me, Kate is still kind of—I hate this word—"purist,” but it's still there, I think it's okay. Because we're not upholding that as “This is the way it should be” when we get offstage and we go to Fred and Lilli, then I'm more interested in that. I'm more interested in how these two relate to each other, and we wanted to find the differences between Petruchio/Kate and Fred/Lilli, where every production I've ever seen, it's, “Oh, well you thought they went at each other’s throats as Kate and Petruchio, well, watch this offstage.” And that just becomes uninteresting to me, and in fact, if you look at some of the old versions of Kiss Me, Kate, they were constantly, almost, transcribing some of the Shakespeare in.
GREEN: Well, that was a really interesting thing. One of the things was that the very way they wrote Kiss Me, Kate was sexist in itself, in that the character of Petruchio gets wonderful language, and the character of Katherine gets, you know, throwing flowerpots and screaming.
BOGAEV: Oh, yeah. She hardly says anything.
GREEN: Hardly says a thing. And Kelli was like, “Why do I...? I don't want to enter throwing flowerpots,” and so, we went through, and added...
CHASE: And added some Katherine lines, yeah.
GREEN: Added some witty, you know, trenchant lines of Katherine's back in, and added more language for her to use, so she can use her words and not just be a feral beast.
CHASE: And I think it's interesting too that the final speech is Shakespeare, and there's been people that have been, “You shouldn't change the Shakespeare,” but Cole Porter throughout the entire show other than that song—
GREEN: I know.
CHASE: Has changed, I mean, in a great way.
BOGAEV: And borrows—
CHASE: Well, borrows, but he has a song about “I Hate Men” and all this stuff, and then all of a sudden, this last precious song, I'm like, “Well, no, I think he would actually applaud... I think he would applaud this,” you know.
GREEN: Only because I think it helps… But I also… and the thing about “bag of gold,” and “who cares if the bag is old,” and even “woo her, wed her, and bed her,” by the time she gets to “I Hate Men,” there is like such a...
CHASE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
GREEN: A release from the women in the audience.
BOGAEV: Yes, that you hear it. You hear that. “Ahhhhh.”
GREEN: It's an identification, and it's a release, which I don’t... I haven't seen that many productions of it before, so I don't know if it gets that release. But I feel like it's a release for the women, and they get to say, “Thank you, yes,” you know?
BOGAEV: Yes, and she delivers that line, “I Hate Men,” so well, right before she does the song, and the song, beautiful, amazing.
CHASE: And the song! Which is usually a banshee, shrew-ish—
GREEN:—Rageful, sullen, exactly—
CHASE: And Kelli does this great version of, “By the way,”
[CLIP: “I Hate Men,” Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. Kelli O’Hara plays Lilli Vanessi/Kate.]
I hate men.
I can't abide them even now and then.
Then ever marry one of them, I'd rest a maiden rather,
For husbands are a boring lot that only give you bother.
Of course, I'm awful glad that mother had to marry father
But, I hate men
GREEN: That was something we talked about a lot and were very conscious about wanting a different approach to that song.
If thou shouldst wed a business man, be wary, oh be wary:
He'll tell you he's detained in town on business necessary.
The business is the business which he gives his secretary!
Oh, I hate men!
GREEN: Cole Porter wrote very witty lyrics, and usually they're buried beneath this wash of sullen anger.
GREEN: So, you don't hear the smart woman, you know, very pointedly bringing up fantastic points about why she is fed up with men.
BOGAEV: Oh, that's really interesting. That brings me to another thing which is, I wanted to ask you, Will, what you kind of base your Taming of the Shrew performance on? What the conversation in the production...
CHASE: Well, Scott and I, over the year and a half, we wanted to make... I kept saying… well, again, the productions I've seen is, it's not the greatest production. Fred's production is not the greatest musical in the world, the greatest production of Taming of the Shrew, and the actors aren't up to snuff necessarily, and we were like, there's nothing in the text that says it's that. So, why don't we make Fred a great director? Make him a wonderful Shakespearian actor, make these other actors he's gotten on board, they've rehearsed for four weeks, let's make them all pretty, damn good.
BOGAEV: Let's put on a good show.
CHASE: What it does is it allows the Shakespeare to be done, I think, in a way that you have Baptista and these people saying these things, and then we have to come back to some kind of reality. Of, “But wait, what about these two egos here?” And we still have the conceit of jealousy, which is still predicated on Lilli gets jealous of Fred. But, what is it about these two they ha...They want to be around each other at the end of the day, as opposed to they want to kill each other? Why do they want to be there? Why do they want to be in love, or do they want to be in love? Why does Fred want to stay with her? Why does she come back? And I think that allowed my Petruchio... I think it allows me to then play Petruchio to the full hilt. We have a thing where we call the red... We have a “red show” and “blue show.”
GREEN: Oh, yeah.
CHASE: So, the blue show, would have been what was supposed to happen if I hadn't sent... If she hadn't gotten the flowers and the card. What would have been the normal Taming of the Shrew musical, right? Then everything goes awry, because she finds the note, and then every scene is colored by that, because she's coming in as Lilli pissed at Fred. So, it changes everybody's reactions. It changes their fight. Their normal Kate/Petruchio fight—which might be two hits—has now become her kicking my butt. So, it's constantly Fred and Lilli, Fred especially, dealing with, “I'm still doing this damn play. But I've got my former lover, who's really angry with me. Can we just get through the night?” So, it's this duel.
GREEN: Which is really the… Kiss Me, Kate.
CHASE: Which I think is the mayhem and fun of the show.
BOGAEV: Yes. Well, let me ask you this, because the fight we haven't really talked about, and the fight is very different than what I remember from the movie, which I know better, and...
CHASE: Mm-hmm. Yep. And the last revival too, yeah.
GREEN: Oh, it's such delicious fun, yeah.
BOGAEV: The fight does not include the spanking, which, kind of, is a little confusing, because the scenes that hang on her butt being sore...
GREEN: Right. Well, we've made very sure that she landed on her butt and got kicked in her butt so that she would...
BOGAEV: Oh, she got kicked! Yes, my daughter pointed out to me later that she got kicked, and I missed that.
GREEN: Yeah, she gets kicked and she falls.
CHASE: Yeah, yeah.
GREEN: So, yeah, no, we definitely want to... We were... We were...
BOGAEV: So, that explains that.
BOGAEV: But what wa... How were you weighing in on the fight?
GREEN: I think we were all very much on the same page from the beginning, which is we do not want her...
CHASE: No spanking.
GREEN: No spanking, and if she gets... If her butt is sore, I mean, Fred does kick her, but it's nine kicks to one, you know?
BOGAEV: Yeah, because she's really beating him up.
GREEN: So, she's really beating him up. She's really mad, and the final coup de gras is not her being taken over his knee, but going to give him a real whack and falling, you know? It's her own self that, you know, she's caused it to herself.
GREEN: You know, I mean, they're both silly and, you know, her pride definitely gets bruised and her bottom gets bruised, but she is not put in her place by a man.
BOGAEV: Okay, how did you block that? How do you choreograph that? Because the fight scenes were kind of challenging.
CHASE: Well we—because we knew originally, I mean, we knew day one of—before we even had rehearsals, Scott and Amanda and Kelli and I got together. We knew there'd be no spanking, just because it was kind of primitive. It's so funny to me that the posters for the movie, and the original production are...
GREEN: Are her over the knee, like “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.”
CHASE: You can't see me, out there in the world, but it's this hand raised... Anyway, so, we said, “How are we going to do this? Well, it's going to be in this fight, and this fight, Rick Sordelet...
GREEN: You guys spent a month, a month.
CHASE: Yeah, we...
BOGAEV: A month?
CHASE: And it used to be a very... We went from setting up a language of slaps and kicks and things to where—I mean, the fight may be on one day back in the studio lasted probably five minutes, and it had...
GREEN: It was so long.
CHASE: It had her picking up a bench and about it to like crush my skull. So, then Scott kept going, “Okay, how do we make this in the reality of this show?”
GREEN: Let's take it back! Yeah.
CHASE: And so, we whittled it down to—because Kate and Petruchio, you know, in the Shrew, are violent with each other, to a point, right?
BOGAEV: Oh, yeah, I mean she gets in some licks, yeah.
CHASE: So, we wanted to… again, “blue show,” what would the blue show have been? What would...
BOGAEV: I keep thinking you're saying it's a blue show, like an after-hours...
CHASE: Ooh, like a what would the blue, X version of Kiss Me, Kate be? No, blue and red, the normal show, what would've the violence have been? Well, now, it's upped by 10. So once we got this language and her going over the shoulder and upside down, we knew that would be funny, and Scott kept saying to me, we have to... “It's this fine line between the audience knowing Will, the actor, is not getting hurt. Kelli, the actress is not getting hurt.” Because it's still musical comedy. It's not like we're a Martin McDonagh play. Do you know where like, do they hire a new cast every night?
But that we also are story telling with, “Oh, that's why his butt hurts, from the kicks.” That's why her butt hurts, from the kicks, and even to the point where maybe Lilli's doesn't really, but she certainly acts like it does.
BOGAEV: Oh, that's what my daughter said.
CHASE: “Oh, he beat me. He beat me. How dare…?”
GREEN: Yeah, well, we definitely wanted those lines to read, “He beat me,” to be like, to be like, “No he didn't.” You want the audience to be like, “Come on now.”
BOGAEV: Oh, that's interesting, because she read that as it's getting into some weird, false accusation thing where you don't believe the woman.
CHASE: Right. Oh, right, right, well.
GREEN: Yeah, well we... No, we just—what we didn't want was the audience to worry for her.
BOGAEV: Let me ask you this, I think the idea, or what I sense watching the show is that both people, Lilli and Fred, change.
BOGAEV: You want both of these people to change.
BOGAEV: And that's the parity that you're working towards. How does Fred change?
CHASE: Yeah. Well, you know...
BOGAEV: How does he become more “woke?”
CHASE: Well, I think it's the moment, you know, again, I think... Scott kept telling us in rehearsals, you know, we're still doing Kiss Me, Kate. You know, we'd have these long—especially Kelli, has the brunt of having to work through this story that's still predicated on her getting the wrong flowers and being jealous. Scott kept going, “That's the conceit of the piece.” I think they change be... I think we set up from the beginning in that first scene with Fred and Lilli, when they do “Wunderbar.”
[CLIP: “Wunderbar!” Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. Kelli O’Hara is Lilli Vanessi. Will Chase is Fred Graham.]
LILLI: It was right after we closed on the road in that little British makeshift of an operetta, that for some reason way laid in Switzerland. There was a waltz in it, remember?
LILLI: What was it?
FRED: [In a broad German accent, laughing] “Yah! Madam, you look ravishing tonight! You have made me the happiest of men.”
LILLI: “Your Highness”
There's our favorite star above.
What a bright shining star!
FRED AND LILLI:
Like our love, it's wunderbar!
CHASE: Which is usually done as this competitive, “Oh, you can sing high? I can sing high.” We're doing this memory of when we were in love, and I think there's a lovely moment there that's, because it's set up at the beginning—and again, this is all textual for me. That's in the text.
BOGAEV: Remind us of “Wunderbar.”
CHASE: “Wunderbar,” she goes, you know, “Remember? It was that piece we did when we were younger, we were both in the chorus,” and she starts singing, and you're like, “Oh, yes, right, right, right,” and so they kind of act it out.
[CLIP continues. Fred and Lilli sing.]
Say you care, dear
For you, madly
Say you long, dear
For your kiss
Do you swear, dear?
Life's divine, dear!
And you're mine, dear!
There's our favorite star above
CHASE: And we get back in the room, and we're almost to a kiss. Fred and Lilli are almost to a kiss, and they're interrupted of course, and you're like, oh, oh...
GREEN: They belong together, yeah.
CHASE: Despite the fact that they probably throw dishes at each other at home, they do love each other, and so the yearning for that, for Fred, I mean, I think there's some jealousy there. She's a movie star.
OGAEV: Yes, professional jealousy. Yeah.
CHASE: He wants to be a movie star. He wants this to be a great production, and I think by the time he goes and says, you know, “You can't walk out on me now.” She says, “You walked out on me once.” And it's like, oh yeah, that's real. That's real messy stuff. That's not Fred and Lilli playing this game with each other. That's a real comment, and he says, “I came back.” And I think that sticks with her, and then she, when she comes back, I say, “You came back...”
GREEN: And she says, “I did.”
CHASE: The simplest thing in the world. “Yes, I did.”
GREEN: But the original thing though, Fred said “I thought I sensed a new humility, a new softness in you.” And you're like, “Booooooo!” You know, so...
GREEN: We change that, so he says, “Please don't go.” I think Fred, correct me if I'm wrong, but you certainly acted that way, that you know, he's making himself vulnerable.
BOGAEV: Vulnerability, yeah.
GREEN: It's like, “I don't want you to go.”
CHASE: And in great musical theater fashion, and in Shakespearean fashion, she leaves, and he shares this vulnerable moment with the audience, or rather by himself, but in a soliloquy way, rather than—and you go, "Oh, if only she heard this.”
GREEN: Right, right.
CHASE: And that's the great thing when she comes back.
BOGAEV: Thank you, Shakespeare. Okay, now, Shakespeare podcast lightning round of the Shakespeare questions.
CHASE: Yeah, right, oh god.
GREEN: Here we go, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.
BOGAEV: To end the conversation, considering just all the thinking that you had to do, all of you, to stage this play without causing a Twitter storm; what is your thinking about The Taming of the Shrew after doing this? Is that a play...?
CHASE: Yeah. Yeah.
GREEN: Shakespeare's an [expletive redacted]. No, I mean, it's kind of... It's an anomaly to me, because he usually is not an [expletive redacted]. I mean, he writes such wonderful, strong women, and Kate is a wonderful strong woman, but that... The whole message of it is untenable. I don't get it. I'm not a fan. I mean, it's not his language, I'm not a fan of. Of course, it's gorgeous.
BOGAEV: You're not alone.
GREEN: I know. And scholars have, you know, who are much more scholarly than I, have found ways into it.
CHASE: See, I, so, I'm of the opposite ilk.
CHASE: I, and not categorically, I would ne... Obviously, he was not a feminist. He wouldn't have known what that is. But again, I mean, we've got to remember the framework of Shrew along with the framework, even Cole Porter and the Spewacks tried to do a framing device, meaning show-within-a-show. He set up this thing, even though he doesn't frame it at the end. He sets up through with this, “We're going to tell this ‘taming’ tale.” And he still makes these men look like idiots, even though Petruchio is a...
BOGAEV: It's not exactly equal opportunity, but there is some parity there, right.
CHASE: Exactly. I'm not saying he's feminist in that, but Kate is… the Shrew.
BOGAEV: Nobody comes off looking so great, yeah, in Taming of the Shrew.
CHASE: And if there's a Shrew, for this horrible lack of a better horrible word, it's Bianca, and it's not Kate. You know, Kelli even points out that Kate's her strong character in this, not Lilli. Kate's the one where she gets to be strong, smart...
BOGAEV: A feminist. Independent.
CHASE: But smart.
CHASE: And I think in... I think Petruchio is a match for Kate. The way he goes about it: completely wrong.
GREEN: Totally, totally.
CHASE: But, oh, she's met a man who can match her wits? You know, that great scene they have, with the combless cocks of Kate shall be my hen.
CHASE: All these sexual references, animal references, all this stuff. I think she...
BOGAEV: They play.
CHASE: So, I think they're...
GREEN: Yes, they do.
BOGAEV: They play together, yes.
GREEN: And it's delightful when they do.
CHASE: And it's a great... There's a great love moment in Shrew—not great—there's a little love moment where...
GREEN: When he calls her “My chattel, my ox, my...”
CHASE: No, no.
BOGAEV: Oh, yeah, that part, your favorite.
CHASE: No, when he asks her to kiss him in the street after he says “It's the sun. No, it's not the sun, it's the moon. Oh, it's the moon,” and he asks her to kiss him in the street, and she says, “Out here, in front of everybody?” And he goes, “What, am I not...?” I think that's the trick to diving into that piece, and I think the trick for diving into our piece is the love story. I think... Otherwise—I think there is something there. It doesn't change that, she has to do that speech at the end, which I...
BOGAEV: Well, Will Shakespeare will be glad to hear that from Will Chase.
CHASE: So, again...
GREEN: He's doing just fine.
CHASE: Yeah, right, I think he's made it.
BOGAEV: Okay, second Shakespeare question.
BOGAEV: As you know, I came into the town originally to interview Glenda Jackson for Lear, on Broadway, which we did, and also Taylor Mac with his sequel to Titus.
GREEN: Oh, yes, Gary. Yeah.
CHASE: Oh, right.
BOGAEV: Yeah, to Titus Andronicus, Gary, and thinking of that and thinking of the Lunts doing Taming of the Shrew in 1935, what's your thinking, as Broadway professionals, two of you here, about where Shakespeare stands these days on Broadway? I mean, those are three pretty solid Shakespeare shows at once on Broadway. So, is this big box office for...
CHASE: Yeah. Well, I mean any great actor… doing Shakespeare, you know, is always a draw and always a... And I think... To me again there's stuff in the text, and you mentioned Lear, and you mentioned, you know, you talk about some strong women, and I mean...
GREEN: You know.
BOGAEV: I thought actually you might say that it's the times, the uncertain political times that give Shakespeare this agency on Broadway.
GREEN: Oh. I think he always has agency. Hm, yeah.
CHASE: I think he always has it. I agree. I think there's always that...
BOGAEV: But it's not considered boffo box.
CHASE: Oh, probably not.
GREEN: Well, it isn't certain. You know, you want to see Glenda Jackson do Lear.
CHASE: I mean, if Adam Driver does Hamlet, I bet it's a draw.
GREEN: Yeah, and I mean, but people endlessly, you know, find ways to use and adapt Shakespeare, you know. Twelfth Night was done as a musical by Shaina Taub, in the Park, was so much fun, and Two Gentlemen of Verona musical is one of my favorite musicals.
BOGAEV: It's fantastic.
GREEN: Yeah, and people will... I mean, he's an endless source of going into both the text as it is, and people reinventing it and taking it as a jumping off point.
BOGAEV: So, last thought, was there anything that you really wanted to change, and you couldn’t, and it bugs you every night?
CHASE: You pull out a list.
GREEN: [Humming the Jeopardy theme] Ding, ding, ding, dingdingding, ding, ding...
CHASE: A list of things—
GREEN: Brush up your Shakespeare.
[CLIP: “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” Kiss Me, Kate 2019 Broadway Cast Recording. John Pankow and Tom McGowan are Kiss Me, Kate’s gangsters.]
If she fights when her clothes you are mussing,
What are clothes? Much Ado about Nuzzin’!
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And they'll all kow-tow!
GREEN: Some of the lyrics are...
GREEN: Some. Most of the lyrics are...
CHASE: I feel like every...
GREEN: Yeah, there were some, well, not all, but there were some that are really like, you know, it's all good fun, and again, clever, clever, clever, but it's all like...
If she says your behavior is heinous,
Kick her right in the Coriolanus!
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And they'll all kow-tow…
GREEN: “Tell her who's boss,” just, you know...
BOGAEV: That is the rape-iest Shakespeare song.
CHASE: For me... For me in Kiss Me, Kate and especially our production, I feel like that song, because that's not Taming of the Shrew—The Taming of The Shrew stuff I give a pass to, because I think they're going to be conseque... We're doing this play, but the real story is about Fred and Lilli and all this other stuff, right? So, we're doing Taming of the Shrew the best we can.
That one, like you just said, I mean, it's reference after reference after reference, and yes, at that point in the evening, we're giving these characters a pass, and all that… but I'm up in my dressing room getting ready to come down, and the lyrics are like, “Oh, it's that. Oh, my lord.”
GREEN: Yeah. First, “her sweet pound of flesh you would menace.” You know, like, ay ay ay ay ay, you know? I mean, I want it to be funny, you know, and those guys are funny, and...
BOGAEV: Oh, my gosh, John Pankow, yeah.
GREEN: Yeah, so...
CHASE: But how do you... But then again, you know, how do you take one of the most popular songs from the musical, that people know...
GREEN: Yes. Yeah.
CHASE: “Oh, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, I know that one!” Do you really though? Do you really know the lyrics?
BOGAEV: So, did you fight that fight?
GREEN: A little bit, but I was...
CHASE: Oh, did you?
GREEN: I did, I did. And they said, “Not a chance.” I mean, I came up with some alternate lyrics, you know. “If you would respect your lady”... No, no, it wasn't like that. It wasn't—but I mean, it's still a song about... It would always be a song about how to get a lady in the sack, but you don't have to punch her, kick her, you know, drag her, and you know—
BOGAEV: There's so many other ways, yeah.
GREEN: You could... You know, I mean, it's all about how if you use Shakespeare, she'll be... She'll turn into jelly, which is very different than, you know, punch her or force her, you know.
CHASE: Barbara, what are the other ways? So many, you said there's so many.
GREEN: That will be Saturday night.
CHASE: That's a different podcast. That's a different interview.
GREEN: That should be our next podcast.
CHASE: That's our blue show! Our blue podcast with Barbara and Amanda.
GREEN: That should be, How you can use Shakespeare to turn them into jelly.
BOGAEV: Episode #135.
CHASE: I love it. I'll be back.
GREEN: “Oh, what a rogue and peasant…” Yeah.
BOGAEV: Well, you guys are just delightful, and thank you so much for the show.
BOGAEV: I wish you the best of breaking all legs for your run, and thank you so much for coming on the show.
CHASE: A pleasure.
GREEN: Thanks for having us.
WITMORE: Will Chase plays the role of Fred Graham in the Broadway production of Kiss Me, Kate. He also plays Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate’s show-within-a-show production of The Taming of the Shrew. Composer-lyricist-writer Amanda Green added “additional material” to the script and worked with the production and creative team to rework Kiss Me, Kate for a twenty-first century audience. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
Our podcast episode, “My Horse, My Ox, My Ass, My Anything” was produced by Richard Paul. I thank Richard for his selection of these words from Taming of the Shrew as the title of this episode. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Robert Auld, Helena DeGroot, Deb Stathopulos, and Larry Josephson at The Radio Foundation studios in New York.
If you’re enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited—and I’m going to bet that you are—please leave us a review on whatever platform you get the podcasts from. That’s a really important way to get the word out about the work we’re doing here, especially to people who don’t know about the podcast already.
Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger-dot-edu. And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, please come and visit us on Capitol Hill. Take in a performance in our Elizabethan Theatre and come face to face with a First Folio – the first printed edition of Shakespeare's plays. We hope to see you here.
Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.