Kiss Me Kate

Still "Darn Hot"!

Martin Beck Theatre, NYC – October 2000

Reviewed by John Kenrick

Picture this – you pay full price to see an established Broadway hit a year into its run, and find that both leads are out. That could easily be a recipe for disappointment, if not outright disaster. However, it was nothing less than a delight when that happened to me at a recent performance of Kiss Me Kate. I loved the show when it first opened, and like almost everyone else I raved about the stellar performances of Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, but I am here to tell you that their standbys are every bit as good – and, in some ways, even better!

I was not surprised that Linda Mugleston made a powerhouse Lilli. After all, she was delightful as Flossie in the ill-fated revival of On the Town. Her rich soprano and polished stage presence are topped by a wicked comic instinct that made the Shrew battle scenes and "I Hate Men" sparkle. Imagine vocal power with a humorous edge, and you'll have an idea of why this delightful actress made the role her own.

The person who caught me off guard was Merwin Foard as Fred Graham. He's been featured in replacement casts for several Broadway musicals of late, including Jekyll & Hyde and Les Miz, but this was the first time I've had the pleasure of seeing him in anything. Tall, handsome and a polished comic actor, has an even stronger baritone voice than Brian Stokes Mitchell. Oh what a joy it was to hear "Where Is the Life That Late I Led" and "So In Love" sung with the soaring, seemingly effortless glee that Alfred Drake gave to them decades ago. Don't get me wrong – Mitchell is superb, but Foard simply has more vocal oomph. This is the kind of singing that used to define Broadway at its best.

Amy Spanger was always a sexual explosion as Lois, but she is now digging far more deeply into the comic possibilities of her character. Her new Bill, David Elder, is every bit as delightful as his predecessor, and ever so easy on the eyes. In fact, the entire ensemble is still one of the hottest and most energetic I've ever seen on Broadway. Repeat kudos to original cast members Adriane Lenox as Hattie ("Another Openin'") and Stanley Wayne Mathias as Paul ("Too Darn Hot") -- they still see to it that each act starts off with a bang.

My loudest cheers, both in the Martin Beck Theatre and here in cyber space, go to Michael Mulhern and his new partner in crime, Michael McCormick. They are walloping riots as the mobsters who learned all about "cultcha" in a prison library, and stop the show cold with their giddy rendition of Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." When these two strut their stuff, the spirits of old time vaudeville and the musical comedy roar back to glorious life right before your eyes.

That spirit permeates the entire evening, thanks in large part to the ageless genius of Cole Porter. As I noted last fall, at a time when comic songs are almost never heard in new musicals, it is a revelation to hear audiences laugh out loud at fifty year old lyrics lyrics that are still a riot. What a score – a true embarrassment of riches. No wonder Kate has been performed and loved the world over. It is everything that the classic Broadway musical ever hoped to be. So I am delighted to report that a year into its run, this revival of Kiss Me Kate is as vibrant and delicious as ever. And if you happen to catch a performance where the understudies are on, don't fret – you're in for a first-class performance!

Musicals101's original Kate review

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