REVIEW By Willard Manus

Revived on Broadway in 1999 for the first time in fifty years, the success of the Tony Award-winning musical KISS ME, KATE has now spawned a national touring company which has slipped into the Shubert Theatre for a two-month run. Directed by Michael Blakemore, who won a second 2000 Tony Award for his production of Copenhagen (coming to L.A. next year), Kiss Me, Kate is based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and has a book by Sam & Bella Spewack, who also wrote such musicals as Leave It To Me and Boy Meets Girl.

The Spewacks go about as deep as a mountain brook in Kate, creating a dozen stick characters who wouldn't be out of place in a children's puppet show. Prominent among them are an always-battling showbiz couple, Fred Graham (Rex Smith) and Lilli Vanessi (Rachel York), who still perform together in the Shrew even though they are no longer married (thanks largely to his gambling addiction). Supposedly based on Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, Fred and Lilli's relationship is comprised of one brawl after another, both backstage and onstage, when they become Petruchio/Katherine in the Spewacks' play-within-a-play construct.

Dumb blonde Lois Lane (the hilarious Nancy Anderson, who also plays Bianca), and Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (Jim Newman), share in a similarly contentious love affair, one that's constantly under pressure owing to his sexual indiscretions. Also key to the plot are two mobsters sent to collect Fred's debts (Richard Poe & Michael Arkin), who are as free with acting tips as they are with threats of violence.

What pulls this two-dimensional mess together are, of course, the music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Working at the top of his craft, Porter contributed such now-classic songs as "Another Op'nin' Another Show," "Why Can't You Behave," "So In Love," "I Hate Men," "Too Darn Hot," "Always True to You (In My Fashion)," "Kiss Me, Kate" and "From This Moment On." (Actually, the latter was written for the movie version of the musical and was added later to the New York revival).

Porter's artistry is such that one can make a lot of allowances for Kate's corny, old-fashioned story and characters. Even the musical's lesser-known songs (and there's a bunch of them, which explains the production's three-hour length) are enjoyable and, at times, even captivating. What also helps is the cast's superlative singing, with York, Anderson and Susan Beaubian (as Hattie) getting the top marks.

Choreographer Kathleen Marshall must also be credited with making this revival the success it is. She has pumped energy into the show and made every dance routine look fresh and original. Robin Wagner's sets, Martin Pakledinaz's costumes and Peter Kaczorowski's lighting design are also big plusses.

Blakemore's direction is solid, but his (and an uncredited John Guare's) tinkering with the script is lamentable, especially when it turns the minor but believable character Harrison Howell (Chuck Wagner) into a grossly out-of-date caricature of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

At the Shubert Theatre, 2020 Avenue of the Americas, thru Oct. 13; resumes touring after that. Call Tele-charge at (800) 447-7400 or visit

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Speaking of the Shubert, the recent news that the 2100-seat theatre, L.A.s largest, is to be razed next year to make way for another Century City skyscraper, came as a real shock. It's hard to believe that such an important, and relatively new, theatre could be torn down in such cavalier fashion, without even so much as a public hearing or debate, just a newspaper announcement.

This is a huge loss for L.A. and its theatrical community. Home to such long-running shows as Cats and Ragtime, the Shubert became a landmark theatre in its time. Despite its size and occasional sound-system problems, the Shubert was a big-time venue and it will be grievously missed in the years to come.