Porter Creates an Integrated Score for

For the highly crafted musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, Cole Porter wrote a song score that was his first to belong to specific characters and advance a particular story line, demonstrating that he was capable of working in the new musical idiom of the 1940’s and not merely in his established idiom of the 1930’s.

Summary of Event

By 1948, the idea of combining the work of William Shakespeare with music was not particularly novel. There were, after all, several operas and ballets in the standard repertoire, and Shakespeare himself often had added music to his plays. Indeed, Lehman Engel Engel, Lehman , a noted musical theater conductor and scholar, suggested that the structure Shakespeare employed in his plays lent itself to musical theater libretti. Engel concluded that if Shakespeare were writing in the twentieth century, he would have been writing musical comedies. In fact, in a way, he already had: In 1938, Richard Rodgers Rodgers, Richard (composer), Lorenz Hart Hart, Lorenz (lyricist), and George Abbott Abbott, George (producer, director, and librettist) staged The Boys from Syracuse
Boys from Syracuse, The (Rodgers, Hart, and Abbott) on Broadway. That musical was based on one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, The Comedy of Errors (pr. c. 1592-1594). The score included “This Can’t Be Love,” “Falling in Love with Love,” and “Sing for Your Supper.” Some critics believed that the songs improved Shakespeare’s work. Kiss Me, Kate (Spewack, Spewack, and Porter)
Musical theater
[kw]Porter Creates an Integrated Score for Kiss Me, Kate (Dec. 30, 1948)
[kw]Score for Kiss Me, Kate, Porter Creates an Integrated (Dec. 30, 1948)
[kw]Kiss Me, Kate, Porter Creates an Integrated Score for (Dec. 30, 1948)
Kiss Me, Kate (Spewack, Spewack, and Porter)
Musical theater
[g]North America;Dec. 30, 1948: Porter Creates an Integrated Score for Kiss Me, Kate[02730]
[g]United States;Dec. 30, 1948: Porter Creates an Integrated Score for Kiss Me, Kate[02730]
[c]Music;Dec. 30, 1948: Porter Creates an Integrated Score for Kiss Me, Kate[02730]
[c]Theater;Dec. 30, 1948: Porter Creates an Integrated Score for Kiss Me, Kate[02730]
Porter, Cole
Spewack, Samuel
Spewack, Bella
Shakespeare, William

Composer/lyricist Cole Porter was not very enthusiastic when playwright Bella Spewack approached him with an idea to turn Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew
Taming of the Shrew, The (Shakespeare) (pr. c. 1593-1594) into a Broadway musical. Spewack had thought it was a bad idea when she had first heard about it as well. The idea originated with a stage manager, Arnold Saint Subber Saint Subber, Arnold , and a costume designer, Lemuel Ayers Ayers, Lemuel . Ayers and Saint Subber wanted to be producers and decided that a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew would be their first project. When the idea was suggested to Bella Spewack, her reaction was negative. She thought that adding music to Shakespeare was “high school” and not worthy of her talents. She was interested in Broadway-quality work.

Spewack knew that field. She and her husband, Samuel Spewack, were a married writing team that had had numerous Broadway successes. Their collaboration started when they were quite young. Both were journalists with different organizations in New York. Bella also wrote numerous short stories. During a series of long walks, she suggested to Samuel that they become partners. She meant professionally, but Samuel assumed that it was a proposal of marriage. Both partnerships were long-lasting and rewarding. In 1932, they opened Clear All Wires. In 1938, this was turned into the musical Leave It to Me!
Leave It to Me! (Spewack, Spewack, and Porter) The score was by Cole Porter, Gene Kelly was in the chorus, and one of the highlights was Mary Martin Martin, Mary singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (Porter)[My Heart Belongs to Daddy] Other plays included Spring Song (1934), Boy Meets Girl (1935), Miss Swan Expects (1939), and, several years following Kiss Me, Kate, My Three Angels (1953). They were also involved in the writing of such screenplays as My Favorite Wife (1940) and Weekend at the Waldorf (1945).

With this experience, the Spewacks were not interested in simply adding music to Shakespeare. Six weeks after Saint Subber approached her with the idea, however, Bella had formed her own conception of the project. There was, surprisingly, some disagreement about the selection of a composer. The producers suggested Burton Lane, but he was busy. They then attempted to sign an untried talent, but the Spewacks were not interested in that.

The Spewacks were interested in Cole Porter. The producers were hesitant because Porter, though a great talent, had not had a hit in three years. The Spewacks were determined, however, and became even more determined when Porter initially turned them down. He told them that he did not believe that he could create the proper score, but privately he thought the project was too highbrow for Broadway. In addition, he was very interested in another project that involved a musical about Miss America pageants. This was proposed by Elaine Carrington Carrington, Elaine , a writer who wanted to move from soap operas to the Broadway stage.

The Spewacks were persistent. When Porter objected that the plot was too complicated for the average audience member, the writers broke it down for him as a rather basic boy-loves-girl story. When Porter complained that he just did not understand the script, Bella Spewack arrived to read sections to him. Porter, a highly intelligent man, was using these measures largely as delaying tactics. Finally, several events occurred that turned Porter’s attention to Kiss Me, Kate. Porter realized that the Miss America project was not going to work. Health and tax problems continued to annoy Porter, and he knew that work—specifically, a new show—was the best therapy. Bella Spewack continued her campaign, and in February, 1948, Cole Porter agreed to create the music and lyrics for Kiss Me, Kate.

Porter set to work, and most of the score was finished by May. This did not solve all the problems, however. Money had to be raised for the production, and investors were cautious. To begin with, the Spewacks were known primarily for nonmusicals, and Porter’s recent record did not instill confidence. The director, John Wilson Wilson, John , was known as a producer. One of the producers was a designer, and the other producer was a stage manager. Finally, the prevailing opinion at the time was that Shakespeare never worked on Broadway. After what seemed an endless number of backers’ auditions, the $180,000 needed to produce the show was raised. It was clear, however, that few people had much faith in Kiss Me, Kate.

Fortunately, during this trying time, the Spewacks and Cole Porter continued their work. After his early hesitation, Porter devoted himself to the project. He praised the book as the best ever written for a musical, and he composed so many songs that the Spewacks begged him to stop. Their entreaty fell on deaf ears, which was fortunate since Porter then wrote “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (Porter)[Brush Up Your Shakespeare] one of the great comedy songs in musical theater.

As the writing progressed, the issue of performers soon became crucial. From the beginning, everyone had agreed that Alfred Drake Drake, Alfred was the perfect choice for the male lead. Drake had established himself as the lead in Babes in Arms (1937) and had made history as Curly in the first production of Oklahoma! (1943). He had experience in Shakespeare, which made him ideally suited for the role.

Finding a female lead was more difficult. Porter first approached an opera diva, Jarmila Novotna, but she did not want to attempt the Broadway stage. Mary Martin also was considered. Negotiations fell apart through bad communications, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Hammerstein, Oscar, II II were able to lure her away with a project that became South Pacific
South Pacific (Rodgers and Hammerstein) (1949). Wilson first approached Lily Pons, but her health was not up to the demands of a Broadway show. Finally, he came across a young movie actor named Patricia Morison Morison, Patricia . Porter was impressed with her and worked on her singing until he was convinced that she could play the role.

The rest of the company included Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang. Hanya Holm Holm, Hanya was the choreographer, Pembroke Davenport Davenport, Pembroke was the musical director, Robert Russell Bennett Bennett, Robert Russell created the arrangements, and Lemuel Ayers doubled as producer and designer of sets and costumes. Conflicts eventually arose between Porter and the Spewacks during rehearsals, but they were not serious enough to disrupt the project.

The show premiered out of town in Philadelphia on December 2, 1948. The production team was confident, but others surrounding the show were convinced that it would be a flop. This led to a great deal of last-minute shuffling of shares in the production. Usually, out-of-town tryouts led to drastic cuts and changes. It was decided in the case of Kiss Me, Kate that no changes were needed. In fact, the only changes Bella Spewack admitted to were some cuts of verses in the songs, the elimination of several songs (from a very rich score), and the return to the original draft in some scenes. Given the chaos that usually precedes the New York opening of a musical, this sort of calm was very rare.

As it turned out, the calm was well founded. The show came into New York on December 30, 1948, under budget. The reviews were not universally glowing (Harold Clurman found the music weak), but the majority were raves. Kiss Me, Kate continued for 1,077 performances in New York and toured for three years. The London production was not greeted as warmly, yet it ran for 400 performances. The show also won several major awards, including the Tony Award Tony Awards .

It is interesting that the show toured so successfully, because a touring show is essential to the plot of Kiss Me, Kate. From the beginning, with the song “Another Opening, Another Show,” “Another Opening, Another Show” (Porter)[Another Opening, Another Show] the audience is watching a show about a show. A struggling company is attempting to stage a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s classic version of the battle of the sexes. Katharina is the headstrong woman who is being pursued by the pompous Petruchio. Katharina’s sister, Bianca, is pursued by Gremio, Hortensio, and Lucentio. Katharina’s attitude toward all of this pursuit is best summed up in the song “I Hate Men.” True love is resolved and the battle of the sexes, though not finished, reaches a happy truce.

Meanwhile, there is another, more pitched, battle of the sexes being fought in the wings. Fred Graham, the director, producer, and star, is the former husband of Lili Vanessi, his leading lady. Sparks still fly between them, some romantic and some violent. Fred has been involved with Lois (the company’s Bianca), who is in love with Bill (Lucentio). Bill is involved with gamblers, who come backstage to collect on debts and who demonstrate a greater appreciation for Shakespeare than anyone would have imagined. The musical moves between the onstage action, created by Shakespeare, and the offstage affairs of the actors.

A film version, Kiss Me Kate, Kiss Me Kate (Sidney)
Motion-picture adaptations[Motion picture adaptations];Kiss Me, Kate featuring the dancing of Ann Miller and Bob Fosse, was released in 1953. The show was translated into more than a dozen foreign languages and was the first American musical to be presented in Germany, Italy, and Vienna, the home of the European operetta.


It would be easy to claim that Kiss Me, Kate was a wonderful success story in the history of musical theater and leave it at that. A composer who had charmed audiences and the social elite alike since the 1920’s and had made a real mark on the Broadway stage in the 1930’s came back with his best work and his biggest hit just when everyone assumed that his career was over. That story itself sounds like a good plot for a Cole Porter musical, but there was more to reality, especially for Porter. While there was still plenty of glow in Kiss Me, Kate, Rodgers and Hammerstein opened South Pacific (with Mary Martin) and stole some of the luster. There also were a few more Cole Porter scores following Kiss Me, Kate. He wrote scores for the musicals Can-Can (1953) and Silk Stockings (1955) and for the film High Society (1956).

The real importance of Kiss Me, Kate lies in what it demonstrated about Cole Porter, the artist. Porter’s place in musical theater history is clear. The 1930’s were his era. He shared them, of course, with Rodgers and Hart, but there is significance to that. The shows of Rodgers and Hart and the shows of Cole Porter (indeed, most of the musicals of the 1930’s) are remembered primarily for the strength of the score. The story line was of little concern and usually had little effect on the song selection. Porter’s skills were well suited to this situation, as he was capable of creating memorable songs even when the books of shows were less than memorable. His songs from the shows of the 1930’s were lifted easily from Porter’s scores and could even be transferred to other shows, demonstrating that the songs were not closely tied to character.

In the 1940’s, the musical began to change. Hammerstein’s work on Show Boat (1927) anticipated these changes but did not cause a trend at that time. Most historians point to Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! (Rodgers and Hammerstein)[Oklahoma (Rodgers and Hammerstein)] by Rodgers and Hammerstein as the watershed. Characters, plot, songs, and dances were all fully integrated, and it was very difficult to separate one from the other. No one would consider taking “Oh! What a Beautiful Mornin’” from Curly and giving it to the King of Siam. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe followed the trend with Brigadoon (1948).

Porter was caught in a transition. He was asked to go from creating wonderful, witty, danceable tunes that could slide in and out of a plot to creating a score that was integrated with and, indeed, helped further the plot. He had to do all of this while maintaining the Porter standards of wit, heart, humor, passion, charm, and some of the most ingenious rhymes since W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. The world discovered, with Kiss Me, Kate, that he was able to do this: His rhymes in the show remain surprising—for example, the rhyme of Padua with “cad you are.” The brooding passion of “So in Love” “So in Love” (Porter)[So in Love] reminds the listener that it is by the same musician/poet who created “Night and Day.” “Night and Day” (Porter)[Night and Day] The difference was that any lonely lover could sing “Night and Day”; “So in Love” belongs to a specific situation and a specific show. Though South Pacific soon overshadowed the accomplishment of Kiss Me, Kate, it was not lost on Cole Porter that he had accomplished, writing words and music by himself, what it took the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein to do. Kiss Me, Kate (Spewack, Spewack, and Porter)
Musical theater

Further Reading

  • Citron, Stephen. Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates. Milwaukee, Wis.: Hal Leonard, 2005. Study of Cole Porter and Noël Coward, emphasizing their urbane personas and the sophistication of their material and the audiences to which it was pitched. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Eells, George. Cole Porter: The Life That Late He Led. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967. A thorough biography of Cole Porter. It is well written and well researched, and there are good pictures. Presents Porter’s personality; not as much detail is given to his work as an artist. This is a book for the layperson. Very good detail in the interview with Bella Spewack.
  • Engel, Lehman. Words with Music. New York: Macmillan, 1972. A serious look at the needs and problems of the libretto in the musical theater. Engel’s background as a conductor and theorist of the musical makes his opinions especially important. His study of structure is quite good. An essential book for the serious study of the musical.
  • Green, Stanley. The World of Musical Comedy. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1960. One of the basic sources. Although not particularly current, it provides an excellent source for the earlier days. Especially good are the pictures, which give a real sense of another time in the theater.
  • Porter, Cole. The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter. Edited by Robert Kimball. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983. An impressive coffee-table book. Helpful for research. One could wish for a bit more information on the shows.
  • Richards, Stanley, ed. Ten Great Musicals of the American Theatre. Radnor, Pa.: Chilton, 1973. Part of a marvelous and valuable series of anthologies of musical theater libretti. Includes some helpful background notes. It is best, however, as primary research. Good for the scholar studying structure or the producer looking for future shows.

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