Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Kiss Me, Kate

Go To

"Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow..."

A 1948 musical with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Sam and Bella Spewack, Kiss Me, Kate was an answer to Oklahoma! in that the music advanced the plot. It also won the first Tony Award for Best Musical (along with four other Tonys).

It's Baltimore, post-World War II. High-minded actor Fred Graham is trying out his musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, starring as Petruchio opposite his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi in the title role ("Another Op'nin', Another Show"). Fellow actress Lois Lane (Bianca) laments the behavior of chronic gambler Bill Calhoun (Lucentio), as Bill has signed Fred's name to a large gambling debt ("Why Can't You Behave?"). Fred and Lilli reminisce about old times ("Wunderbar"), but soon start to argue. Lilli realizes she still loves Fred ("So in Love"), and when a bouquet of flowers from Fred (actually intended for Lois) arrives in her dressing room, she rejoices even more. The show opens with Fred, Lilli, Bill, and Lois onstage ("We Open in Venice"), and continues with numbers by Lois and Bill ("Tom, Dick, or Harry"), Fred ("I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua") and Lilli ("I Hate Men"). But things start to go awry when Lilli reads the note included with the bouquet, acting out onstage and forcing Fred to take matters into his own hands. By spanking her in front of the audience.

Meanwhile, backstage, Fred is approached by two thugs who come to collect the IOU Bill signed Fred's name to. To stop Lilli from quitting the show, Fred tells the two men he can only pay their boss the money with the profits from the night's performance. In between his scenes ("Were Thine That Special Face"), Fred convinces the Two Men to do a little convincing of their own. The gangsters "cajole" Lilli into staying on the show ("Cantiamo d'Amore", "Kiss Me, Kate").

During the Intermission, Fred's dresser Paul and the rest of the ensemble cast complain about the weather ("Too Darn Hot"). Lilli calls her boyfriend, General Harrison Howell, to complain about Fred's treatment of her, and the General immediately drives down to rescue her while the show goes on ("Where Is the Life that Late I Led?").

General Howell arrives to take Lilli away ("From This Moment On"). The Two Men find out their boss has been killed, so without an IOU to collect, they try to make their way out of the theater. Lois reassures Bill she has eyes only for him... sort of ("Always True to You in My Fashion") and Bill admits he couldn't leave her ("Bianca"). Fred desperately tries to get Lilli to perform the rest of the show, realizing he still loves her too ("So in Love (Reprise)"). Lilli leaves with Howell. The Two Men get stuck out on stage and improvise ("Brush Up Your Shakespeare"). Fred resigns himself to finish the last scene of the show, not expecting 'Kate' to come onstage. He is surprised but overjoyed when she does; Lilli came back ("I Am Ashamed that Women are so Simple") ("Kiss Me, Kate (Reprise)").

Its best known song is "Brush Up Your Shakespeare". "Another Op'nin', Another Show" is also widely recognized.

A 3-D Movie version was released in 1953, directed by George Sidney and starring Kathryn Grayson as Lilli, Howard Keel as Fred, and Ann Miller as Lois.

Includes examples of:

  • Affably Evil: The Two Men may be gangsters, but even when they're making it clear how they'll rough up Fred, they're quite friendly, and they even manage to help keep the show going.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Slightly under half the show is a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew.
  • Antihero: Fred and Lilli.
  • The Bard on Board
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Fred and Lilli.
    Lilli: Whose fault was it?
    Fred: Could have been your temper.
    Lilli: Could have been your ego.
  • Bad Boss: Fred and Lilli are usually decent to their employees, but when their mood has soured, they take their anger out in them.
  • Bantering Baddie Buddies: First Man and Second Man are two witty gangsters who show up to collect a hefty debt from the leading man, who needs to keep the titular show open in order to pay this off. They sing the comedic "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", chock full of Shakespeare references.
    Just declaim a few lines from "Othella"
    And they think you're a heckuva fella.
    If your blonde won't respond when you flatter 'er
    Tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer,
    And if still, to be shocked, she pretends well,
    Just remind her that "All's Well That Ends Well."
    Brush up your Shakespeare
    And they'll all kowtow.
  • Beta Couple: Bill and Lois.
  • Bowdlerisation: In the musical number "Too Darn Hot", the line "according to the Kinsey Report" was changed to "according to the latest report" in the film version. The word "bastard" was replaced in the film with "you louse". Many of the lyrics of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" were changed.
  • Brainless Beauty: Lois
  • Chick Magnet: Fred was married to Lilli who still harbors deep feelings for him, and Lois has either fooled around with him, or she's barely hiding her desire to.
  • Comedic Spanking: Lilli receives a good one from Fred at the end of the first act, technically in character as Katherina but she had it coming herself as well. This sets up a Running Gag of her being unable to sit down well into the second act.
  • Crowd Song: "Another Op'nin', Another Show", "Bianca", "Kiss Me Kate".
  • Delusions of Eloquence: The Two Men. (It's implied that they did a lot of reading in prison.)
  • Dirty Coward: After framing Fred for owing his own debt, when Bill sees the gangsters who are supposed to collect it come onstage, he tries to get away before Lois stops him from leaving.
  • Double Entendre: It's a show by Cole Porter — would you expect anything else?
  • Dude Magnet:
    • Lilli was married to Fred whose still very much in love with her, she's engaged to General Howell, and the First Man makes it clear he's into her as well.
      First Man: Miss Vanessi, you've been my ideal for years. I married my wife because in a certain light, when it's kinda dark, she might pass for your sister.
    • Lois is in a relationship with Bill, at the very least has the attraction of Fred, had a one night stand with General Howell who wants to set up another one, and in general, is implied to Really Get Around.
  • Enemy Mine: The Two Men are present to collect payment from Fred, and make it clear that they'll seriously hurt or even kill him if he doesn't comply. Later Fred says that he'll only be able to pay them back if they keep Lilli from leaving the theatre, as he won't be able to pay them back if the show shuts down, at which point they gladly help by keeping Lilli at gun point throughout the performance.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Granted, they're Affably Evil Punch-Clock Villains, but The Two Men don't care for General Howell's undignified language and lack of respect for the arts.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Subverted with General Howell, who has a major Stay in the Kitchen vibe going on, but initially preaches of the sanctity of marriage to a flirtatious Lois. Then seconds later he says he'll be happy to cheat on Lilli with her after three months of marriage.
  • The Family for the Whole Family: The Two Men.
  • Friendly Enemy: Even before they start an Enemy Mine with Fred, The Two Men are exceedingly polite to him, even while dropping threats.
  • The Gambler: Bill.
  • Godwin's Law: The dialog between Fred and Lilli
    Lilli: "I'm marrying an important man! Do the words "World War 2" mean anything to you?"
    Fred: "You're marrying Adolf Hitler?"
  • Hidden Depths: The Two Men may be criminals, but it becomes clear that they have immense passion and respect for the theatre. Especially apparent during "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", where they make a startling number of references to the bard's plays.
  • Hurricane of Puns: "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" has most of its lyrics be based on puns on titles of William Shakespeare plays. Here is a selection:
    "If you quote a few lines from Othella,
    Then they'll think you're one heck of a fella.
    If your blonde won't respond when you flatter her,
    Tell her what Tony told Cleopatera."
  • "I Am" Song: "Always True to You".
  • "I Hate" Song: "I Hate Men", obviously.
  • The Ingenue: Subverted with Lois. She plays one on stage as Bianca but is far less virginal off stage.
  • Intercourse with You: "I'd like to coo with my baby tonight, pitch the woo with my baby tonight, but I ain't up to my baby tonight 'cuz it's too darn hot!"
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "Too Darn Hot".
  • "I Want" Song: "Why Can't You Behave".
    • "So In Love" also counts.
  • Jerkass: General Harrison Howell comes across as one due to his rather dim view on women. While affectionate towards her, he clearly views Lilli as little more than a Trophy Wife and plans to have her give up her career aspirations just so she can be at side, serving him and making him look good. Not only that, but Howell fully intends to cheat on Lilli in a few months time with Lois.
  • Karma Houdini: Bill. He signs Fred's name to a large gambling debt (to pay for money that Fred doesn't actually have) and his punishment for this is the mob boss that wanted Fred to pay up conveniently dies just in time for Bill and Lois to reconcile and go on to star in what we presume will be a very successful play.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: General Howell never suffers any onstage misfortune, but the ending makes it clear that Lilli left him for Fred. In addition to that, audiences know that Howell's aspirations for the presidency after serving as VP won't work out since he chooses to be Thomas E. Dewey's running mate instead of Harry S. Truman's. And for one last unseen defeat, his plans to share another night with Lois are looking unlikely since Bill wins her faithfulness shortly afterwards.
  • Large Ham:
    • The Two Men already serve as over the top comedic relief throughout the show, but this especially applies when they're Pushed in Front of the Audience, as the two clearly enjoy being onstage. This becomes even more pronounced during "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", where the gangsters keep extending their duet to further bask in the limelight.
    • Fred and Lilli, both on and offstage. Much like Petruchio and Katherine, they're bold, loud personalities make them valid examples on their own, but they especially apply when together. Not to mention, both have an operatic sound to their music, giving their songs a much more dramatic feel than the rest of the score.
    • General Harrison Howell counts, whether he's making it clear what a big deal he is, or being as sexist as possible, it is to be played with appropriate gusto.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Kiss Me, Kate" is a line within "The Taming of the Shrew."
    • Also, "Always True to You in My Fashion" is probably an intentional paraphrase of a line from the poem "Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae" (better known as simply "Cynara") by Ernest Dowson: "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion." Bonus in-joke points because the speaker has been indulging a lot in wine, women and song in an unsuccessful attempt to forget Cynara.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Because it's too darn hot.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Fred used to be married to Lilli and they still have feelings for each other, but she's now engaged to Harrison Howell who used to have a thing with Lois who is currently going out with Bill, but she's also involved to some degree with Fred (as well as several others, apparently).
  • Loveable Rogue: Bill
  • Mob Debt: Zig-Zagged. On the one hand, Fred Graham is an egotistical lead actor who is pursuing a younger woman in front of his ex-wife, so not the most sympathetic. On the other hand, his co-star Bill gambling and signing a $10,000 IOU (in 1948, mind) with Fred's name is not exactly deserved. A couple of gangster thugs pursue Fred throughout the show but the mob boss conveniently dies before either Fred or Bill are forced to pay up.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Two Men are named Lippy and Slug in the film version.
  • Narm Charm: In-Universe, the song "Wunderbar." Lili and Fred agree that it's cheesy through and through, but by the last refrain they're moved by the emotion.
  • No Name Given: The Two Men, called 'Man 1' and 'Man 2' in the script.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the reprise of "So in Love", arguably the saddest part of the story, it's followed by "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", one of the funniest moments, if not the funniest moment in the show.
  • Paddleball Shot: Quite a few in the movie; among them scarves and dice go flying, the opening scene of the Show Within a Show has a shower of sparkling confetti filling the screen, and during the first rendition of "Why Can't You Behave?" there's a shot in which the sole of Bill's shoe seems to come dangerously close to the viewer's nose!
  • The Plan: Fred attempts this to keep Lilli in the show. It works for a while, but not long enough.
  • Precision F-Strike: "You BASTARD!"
  • Proscenium Reveal: Just before the overture reaches its final chords, the conductor cuts it off and asks, "Is that all right, Mr. Graham?" Fred enters and says, "Yes, the cut's good, leave it in."
  • Punch Clock Villains: The Two Men. If they're not threatening to kill you and sprinkle the pieces in the Bay, then they're theater enthusiasts who are happy to talk Shakespeare and performance.
  • Pushed in Front of the Audience: The Two Men. It actually happens twice. First Fred enlists them to come onstage essentially as Lilli's handlers, ensuring that she won't leave. Then later on, when the gangsters try to leave the theatre, they wind up in front of the curtain and decide to save face by singing an ode to Shakespeare.
  • Really Gets Around: Lois sings a whole song about it. It's in character as Bianca, but it's still a pretty accurate description of her portrayer.
  • Running Gag: Lilli is unable to sit down after Fred's spanking!
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Fred and Lily.
  • Show Within a Show/The Musical Musical: The musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, which itself is a Show Within a Show, based on the opening number of their musical, We Open In Venice, which clearly takes inspiration from the original play's Framing Device.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Fred and Lily do quite a bit of this.
  • Straw Misogynist: Why did Harrison Howell allow Lilli to star in a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew? Because he likes the title and what it has to say.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • "Bianca" which is supposed to be a bad poem that Bill wrote for Lois. Despite this, it works. Helps that he also engages in some badass dancing during it as well.
    • Subverted with the In-Universe musical. While Lilli and Fred's conflict very blatantly spills onstage, when the show is actually running smoothly, it's legitimately good, with a libretto taken directly from the original text, featuring shortened and easy to understand lines, as well as a great score, just as strong as the songs occurring offstage. Granted, it can potentially be done in a way with occasional bad acting and hiccups, but even then, overindulging on that takes away from the scripted moments where the show goes wrong.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: "Wunderbar". Unusually for the trope, it's actually a character-developing moment as the ex-lovers reflect on the good times they used to have singing that song.
  • Tsundere: Lilli (oh so much).
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Lilli and Lois. Subverted in that Lilli is a Tomboy with attitude but is also very feminine and a soprano.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted; Lilli slaps, punches and commits at lest one Groin Attack on Fred on stage, but when he finally has enough he grabs her and spanks her on the behind so long and hard she can't sit down afterwards. Neither are ultimately shown to be in the right.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Despite Fred offering Bill employment and putting up with his gambling addiction, the latter signs the former's name on an I.O.U for an exorbitant amount of money. Granted, while it's not clear if anything has actually happened between them, there's clearly something going on between Fred and Bill's girlfriend Lois. But even then, it's still Disproportionate Retribution, especially because Fred is far from being the only other man in Lois' life.
  • World of Ham: In and out of Universe.
  • World of Snark: Even though Lilli and Fred get the majority of snarkiness, the rest of the characters aren't exactly slouches in that department either. Really, the only character who doesn't join in at least once is Harrison Howell.

Alternative Title(s): Kiss Me Kate