Kiss Me Kate. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. Basis William Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew. 1948 Broadway.
Silk Stockings. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath & Abe Burrows. Basis Melchior Lengyel's story Ninotchka. 1955 Broadway.
This week I'll be looking at six musicals composed by Cole Porter. Two bad films have been made about his life. Both tell us he wrote musicals, had a complicated marriage, and broke his legs in a riding accident. The second film explores his bisexuality. The first film is less honest but features stronger musical performances.
It's been quoted that Cole Porter felt Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical librettos "made it that much harder for everyone else" Kiss Me Kate was Porter's most ambitious and most successful musical to date. The interweaving of Shakespeare's brutal comedy and Spewack's backstage farce inspired a broad range of music from Porter. It also explored a common theme of his: the
"Taunt me, and hurt me.
Deceive me, desert me.
I'm yours till I die.
So in love with you am I."
The melody and lyric present their co-dependent relationship as something beautiful and tragic.
Silk Stocking's leading lady gets her liveliest song when she dismisses love as "A Chemical Reaction." When she falls for Steve she sings the dreary "Without Love (What Is a Woman?)" which makes romance sound funereal. Porter's heart was clearly in the brassy comedy and the spiky conflict.
"Though the uninstructed faction
Calls it mutual attraction
it's a chemical reaction, that's all."
Part 2's shows will continue a theme from Kiss Me Kate: hooking up with your ex.