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Marriott revisits a great in ‘Kiss Me, Kate’

When you hear old-timers like me referring to today’s musicals by saying, “They sure don’t make them like they used to,” I hope you realize we are referring to the works of George and Ira Gershwin, like “Girl Crazy,” “Strike Up the Band” and “Of Thee I Sing”; Jerome Kern’s “Roberta” and “Showboat”; Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Call Me Madam” and “Holiday Inn,” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” “South Pacific” and “Sound of Music.”

And then, of course, there was the prolific and debonair Cole Porter, who wrote “Anything Goes,” “Can-Can” and “Kiss Me, Kate,” the musical version of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The original production, which won the very first Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, had 20 great musical numbers. The majority of them, because of their popularity and cleverness, were later used as parodies in our annual Chicago Bar Association gridiron show.

“It’s Too Darn Hot” became a warning about Climate Change. “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” was the lament of a losing candidate, and “Why Can’t You Behave?” a pope’s plea to his fallen flock.

Now, thanks to the good folks at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, who have been recycling all kinds of classic musicals since 1975, you will able to see their latest version of this one by Cole Porter through Jan. 16.

With book by Sam and Bella Spewack, the production features Larry Adams and Susan Moniz as a "divorced couple who continue their feuding as they co-star in "A Taming of the Shrew.”

Adams as the director Fred Graham also plays Petruchio, and Moniz as Lilli Vanessi, his former wife, portrays his future wife, a defiant and very shrewish Katharine in the Shakespeare play.

Both are excellent under the direction of Johanna Mckenzie Miller, as are Alexandra Palkovic as the flirtatious Lois Lane and as Kate's sister, Bianca. Daniel May portrays Bianca’s boyfriend, Bill, and Lucentio, and the two comical hoodlums are hilariously played by Lillian Castillo and Shea Coffman.

Of particular note is the outstanding performance of Jonathon Butler-Duplessis as Paul, a stagehand who leads the ensemble in a rousing rendition of “It’s Too Darn Hot” as an entr’acte to Act II.

In the present-day awareness of #MeToo, both the musical and the play on which it is based have been subject to criticism.

This is due, in no small measure, to a plot in Shakespeare’s play where main character Petruchio treats the shrewish Katharine very badly to get her to forgo her belligerent ways. He denies her food, water, sleep and even physically slaps her. Yet at the end she is apologizing, groveling at his feet and advising the other wives to do likewise with their spouses.

In that regard, I would like to rise in defense of the musical and Mr. Shakespeare.

In my opinion, William Shakespeare was neither a woman abuser nor someone who advocated such action. To the contrary, I believe that Shakespeare, who married his wife when she was pregnant and stayed married until his death 35 years later, greatly respected women and would see them emancipated from male suppression.

Why then, one might ask, would he subject Katharine to so much of Petruchio’s oppressive behavior, only to have her suddenly change into the sweet and obedient wife who gives the controversial closing monologue imploring other wives that “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign … who you are bound to serve, love and obey … and place your hands below your husband’s foot.”

The simple answer is that Shakespeare was writing a satire — using wit, sarcasm and ridicule to attack the vices and follies of humankind.

During Shakespeare’s time, women were subservient to men, unable to own property or attend school and encouraged to be silent and obedient to their father or their husband.

Yet, in the play, Petruchio’s constant indignities were so outrageous as to be unbelievable, as was Katharine’s unconditional surrender of every bit of her distinct personality.

Imagine a performance of the play where Katharine, in her final speech, does so with each line dripping with sarcasm. Petruchio would have had to have been a fool not to recognize that he had met his match. And, I might add, she met hers.

Think of the musical “The King and I,” where Anna, out of the King’s presence, sings “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” concludes with “Don’t let us up off our knees, your majesty. Give us a kick if you please, your majesty. Give us a kick if you would, your majesty. Oh, that was good, your majesty.”

The defense rests as to Shakespeare.

As to the musical, I do not believe it encourages spousal abuse. This play-within-a-play is a comparison of the times and a contrast in the behavior.

When presented in 1948, women were emerging in the workforce, in the armed forces and on the assembly lines. When Lillie returns to join the cast, it is not because she is submitting to Fred’s abusive treatment, but rather because of her lingering love for him and for the theater life they share.

Perhaps this could have been made clearer in the dialogue or the final song. Maybe next time.