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What's wrong with Kiss Me, Kate (and how it could be fixed) 
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Tony Winner
Tony Winner

Joined: Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:33 am
Posts: 450
Post What's wrong with Kiss Me, Kate (and how it could be fixed)
In my humble opinion, while Kiss Me, Kate has a wonderful Cole Porter score, its book is one of the most misogynistic stories ever written for the musical theatre. We have a hero who, when the woman he ostensibly loves learns that he has sent a token of love to another woman, whips her onstage in front of a full audience, then hires gangsters to literally imprison her in a theater and force her to continue performing against her will. Then when she finally does gain her freedom, we're supposed to believe, with no explanation, that she returns to him, takes him back, and forgives him for everything. In my mind, this plot not only glamorizes domestic violence but sends the message that women don't really care if a partner is violent or abusive--they'll love him anyway. Clearly this is a message we should not be sending in the 21st century.

So I came up with the following basic idea for a rewrite of the KMK book. Bear with me, because this is a little long.

Everything's pretty much the same up until Lilli discovers that Fred's letter that came with the flowers was addressed to Lois rather than to her. Fred and Lilli get into a big shouting match onstage, but Fred does not use the whip in this scene (don't worry, he will later). We go backstage, and the two gangsters try again to extort the IOU money they believe Fred owes, but this time they try a different tactic. They tell Fred their own lives are in danger if they don't get the IOU money (and this is the truth), and they tell him the following backstory:

Not long ago, these same two gangsters were assigned to carry out a blackmail plot against Harrison Howell (Lilli's politician fiance). They found out he was having an affair with his secretary and snapped pictures of the two in a compromising position, and these photographs, if revealed to the press, would ruin Harrison's planned campaign for President, as his engagement to Lilli was well-known and highly publicized. So they sent Harrison an anonymous letter and enclosed prints of the incriminating pictures, boasting that they still had the negatives, and if Harrison did not mail a certain amount of money to a certain address by a certain date, they would leak the negatives to the press. However, the two bumbling gangsters botched the plot: Afraid to use the address of one of their own hideouts for where the money should be sent in case Harrison decided to turn up in person instead, they gave out the home address of one of the men's widowed grandmother. The plan went awry when Harrison turned up at the grandmother's house with a loaded pistol and forced the bewildered old lady (who had no prior knowledge of the plot) to tell them who had sent the blackmail letter. Panicked, she named Lilli as the guilty party, with her motive being to exact revenge for Harrison cheating on her. Harrison, in turn, had vowed to "rub her out." (Harrison and Lilli have not seen each other since this happened.) Now the head honcho of the entire crime syndicate that the gangsters work for, realizing that the mob will never get the blackmail money now, has threatened to rub the two gangsters out for botching the job unless they pay him a penalty in cash by next week. But the gangsters won't have the money to pay the penalty unless Fred makes good on his IOU. And although using the IOU money to pay the fine would leave the gangsters unable to collect "Fred's" gambling debts, that money, they say, is only owed to their immediate superior, and they would much rather face his wrath than the big boss's.

Fred isn't moved by the gangsters' plight, but when Lilli enters just then and announces that she has cabled Harrison and asked him to drive down to Baltimore to meet her and elope with her (not to mention the fact that she isn't staying in the theater a moment longer), Fred realizes that Lilli will only be safe from Harrison as long as she stays in the the theater where there are witnesses; as soon as she is out in the open, Harrison could take her to an isolated spot and murder her with no one the wiser. But Fred can't warn Lilli that she is in danger from her fiance, because Lilli will almost certainly not believe him and will probably tell Harrison of Fred's accusations, inadvertently alerting him to the fact that she and Fred both know Harrison is after her and making both her and Fred even bigger targets. So Fred does the only thing he can to protect Lilli--as in the original, he tells the gangsters he did in fact sign the IOU but needs a full weekend of box-office sales to get the money to pay them; therefore, Lilli must be prevented from leaving.

The remaining Shrew scenes in the first act are basically the same as in the original, but there is a new scene backstage shortly before the Act I curtain. Fred sneaks into Lilli's dressing room while she's not using it in order to steal back the flowers and love letter that were mistakenly delivered to her, and he accidentally comes across a telegram Lilli has received from Harrison in response to one of her own. Harrison's telegram states that he has arrived in Baltimore and goes on to use phrases such as "Fred Graham has hired gangsters to keep me from seeing you" and "I promise, my darling, for your sake, that I will get even with him" and "Nothing and no one, not even Fred Graham, will keep us apart tonight, my love." From the wording of Harrison's telegram, Fred guesses that his ruse of playing jealous lover has not fooled Harrison and that Harrison suspects Fred is protecting Lilli--Fred even fears that Harrison may have wrongly come to the conclusion that he has warned Lilli and that the two of them have paid off the gangsters together to play their part in the ruse--and Fred realizes that unless he can do something quickly to convince Harrison otherwise, both of their lives may be in grave danger. Act I ends with "Kiss Me, Kate" as before, but with the aforementioned added cliffhanger.

Act II opens with "Too Darn Hot" as usual, but the business with the whip finally finds its way into the first Shrew scene of Act II (the one with "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?"). Fred, still motivated above all else by Lilli's protection, breaks character during the bedroom scene and confronts Lilli about her plans to elope with Harrison. This leads to another quarrel, ultimately culminating in Fred running into the wings to fetch a whip (used as a prop in one of the earlier Shrew scenes) and returning to use it mercilessly on Lilli--all in the hope that she will send another telegram to Harrison complaining about Fred's treatment, which will lead Harrison to conclude that Fred was only an abusive, jealous lover after all and was not protecting Lilli. Lilli has no idea of this, of course, and she screams, protests, and finally runs offstage. In a later backstage scene, Fred slips into Lilli's dressing room again and finds another telegram from Harrison, which confirms that Lilli has told her fiance about Fred's "abuse," and Harrison has finally bought the "jealous lover" story.

The next few scenes are largely the same as the original, but after the gangsters get the phone call reporting that the big boss has been killed, things get really interesting again. The gangsters tell Fred that with the boss dead, their lives are no longer in danger, so they no longer need his money. Don't they still need to collect his gambling debts? Fred asks. At this point, the gangsters get pretty red in the face and confess that they lied to Fred--the IOU money was never theirs to collect, but a rival gang's. They picked up the IOU off the unconscious person of a member of the rival gang whom they jumped that afternoon, they say, and they stole it so that they could extort the money to pay off their own IOU to the boss. But now that the boss is dead, the IOU is worthless to them, so they let Lilli leave the theater. Before she leaves, Fred gets her attention and starts to make a last-ditch attempt to warn her about Harrison, then loses the nerve to do it. After Lilli goes, Fred sings the reprise of "So in Love" as in the original, but the song has added poignancy, as Fred believes this is the last time he will ever see Lilli alive.

No sooner has Lilli left the theater, than the two gangsters get another phone call. Surprise, surprise, the boss is alive after all. He was only grazed by a bullet to the head, knocked unconscious, and mistaken for dead, but now he has come to. Furthermore, he wants to see the two gangsters at once, so the middleman on the other end of the phone tells them where the rest of the mob is tending to his wound. Now the gangsters are in a panic. Their lives are in danger if they can't pay off the boss, but they won't get the money unless Fred can make good on his IOU, which can't happen now that they have let Lilli go. Desperate, they beg Fred to help them out of their mess.

Fred has an idea, gets on the phone, and dials the police. As the lights come up on the police station on another part of the stage, the Sargent on Duty answers the call. Fred tells the Sargent that he has a tip that could enable them to nab a really big fish--Harrison Howell--in a plot to murder his famous actress fiancee. He has two witnesses who will give evidence attesting to the accusation, but only under the condition that they are a) given full immunity from any crimes they might confess to in the process, and b) afforded police protection from a mob boss who has threatened their lives and for whom they can provide both a full physical description and a probable current location. The Sargent confers with the Chief of Police, and after a brief deliberation, the Police Chief agrees to Fred's bargain and comes on the line. Fred hands the receiver to one of the gangsters, who tells the Police Chief the whole story--how they tried to blackmail Harrison; how the plot went wrong; how Harrison arrived at the gangster's grandmother's house with a gun, and the grandmother named Lilli as the blackmailer; how Harrison announced in the grandmother's presence that he would murder Lilli. The Police Chief thanks the gangster for his information, then turns to a deputy and tells him to look up Harrison Howell's license plate number and radio it to every policeman, sheriff's officer, and state trooper in Maryland. The gangster then describes his boss's appearance down to the last detail and relays the location the middleman on the phone told him just a few minutes earlier was where the boss wanted to meet both gangsters. At this point, the action creates some necessary diversion and passage of time by segueing to the two gangsters in front of the Shrew curtain singing "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

This is followed by the final Shrew scene, where everybody calls for Kate, but Lilli isn't there, and then she unexpectedly enters and sings "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple." However, the scene doesn't segue directly into the Finale, as in the original. Instead, Lilli breaks character onstage and tells Fred in front of the full audience that she and Harrison were driving down the highway when he began to confront and threaten her about a blackmail letter she knew nothing about. She had tried to protest her innocence, but Harrison had just said he was going to murder her when they were pulled over by the police, who, upon Lilli's corroboration of the gangsters' account, had promptly arrested Harrison. Then, she says, the cops told her the whole story and that Fred was the one who had made the report that had led to Harrison's arrest. Suddenly, Lilli had realized that every seemingly horrible thing that Fred had done to her all evening--having the gangsters force her to stay in the theater, playing the role of a jealous and abusive ex-husband, even whipping her onstage--was done for her own protection, to keep her safe from Harrison. "You saved my life!" she says. "Well, I love you," says Fred. "I never stopped loving you." As Fred and Lilli embrace, the entire cast sings the final refrain of "So in Love" ("So taunt me and hurt me/Deceive me, desert me!" Etc.), which leads straight into a final chorus of "Kiss Me, Kate" to close the show. Right at the final curtain, two police officers escort a man who perfectly matches the physical description of the mob boss given to the Police Chief earlier onto the Shrew stage in handcuffs.

What do people think of this idea? Do other people agree with me that the book to Kiss Me, Kate is morally questionable and sends the wrong message to today's generation? Do you think that something along the lines of this outline would be an improvement? I'd love to hear everybody's feedback on this!

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I remember where the spots formerly were. -- Big Jule, Guys and Dolls


Sat Jan 27, 2018 2:52 am
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Off-Broadway Lead
Off-Broadway Lead

Joined: Tue Aug 26, 2008 4:29 am
Posts: 198
Post Re: What's wrong with Kiss Me, Kate (and how it could be fix
You've done a great job! You should rewrite this for the next revival. This book hasn't aged well. It is just plain sexist. The score is still great.


Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:24 pm
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Tony Winner
Tony Winner

Joined: Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:33 am
Posts: 450
Post Re: What's wrong with Kiss Me, Kate (and how it could be fix
Quote:
You've done a great job! You should rewrite this for the next revival. This book hasn't aged well. It is just plain sexist. The score is still great.


Glad you like my idea. Now, does anybody know where I could get ahold of the Bella and Sam Spewack estate and actually pitch this to them?

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I remember where the spots formerly were. -- Big Jule, Guys and Dolls


Sat Feb 10, 2018 6:57 am
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