I conclude my tour through Kiss Me, Kate on screen with the best–though most truncated–version to be found. A 1958 telecast, presented by Hallmark and available thanks to the folks at Video Artists International, who have made a habit of preserving such delicacies. This adaptation runs only 78 minutes (a full hour shorter than the 2003 London taping), but you hardly notice anything is missing. Of course, a lot is missing: “Too Darn Hot”, “Were Thine that Special Face”, “Bianca”, and while a brief dance portion is all the remains of “Sing of Love”, most of the other dancing has been cut. Elsewhere dialogue is trimmed throughout (especially in the Shrew scenes), and if that means the transition from scene to song is sometimes graceless, much of the humor and all of the plot is retained and the added efficiency is welcome (especially in the Shrew scenes). But the greatest asset of this production is the presence of the original stars of the Broadway production. As Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate, Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison are peerless. Their chemistry is tangible with as much of their performance communicated through sly looks and innuendo as text or song and their obvious fondness for the material and each other is infectious. Though the staging of “Wunderbar” lacks the movie version‘s graceful choreography or the precisely crafted jokes found in the revival, Morrison and Drake’s seemingly effortless rapport make it the most genuinely engaging of the three.
Drake has a remarkable ability to crisply spit out Porter’s clever lyrics, and his incredible energy and charm drive the show with locomotive-like intensity. His broad, charismatic Petruchio makes the somewhat forgettable “I’ve Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua” sparkle with wit and then seamlessly moves the action backstage and becomes Fred for a brief moment before leading us back to Shrew. (The production also does a great job of following the action from in-front-of to behind-the-scenery).
Drake’s unique blend of braggart and mischievous imp is irreplaceable in the Harrison/Lilli/Fred scene, making clear why subsequent productions have had so much trouble with it and found revisions necessary.
With “Bianca” and much of his dialogue cut, Bill/Lucentio (a striking Bill Hayes) is mostly a sounding board for Julie Wilson’s riotous Lois/Bianca, but their romantic chemistry is the most convincing I’ve seen. A year ago, I came across Wilson’s rendition of “Always True to You” from a Cole Porter Centennial Concert and thought it was as funny as any I’d be likely to hear. Though the years between this taping and that concert added smoky depth and more idiosnycratic humor to Wilson’s performance, the priviledge of seeing her young self–particularly her wildly expressive eyes–would make this performance a Kate of note even without its incomparable stars.
This Kate is a priceless performance that should be procured before there’s any chance of it going out of print.