Broadway's 'Kiss Me, Kate' Stars Talk Bringing the Cole Porter Classic Up to Date

Joan Marcus
Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase in "Kiss Me, Kate"

In the canon of musical comedy, Kiss Me, Kate is the golden standard. There's its endlessly clever score by Cole Porter; its leading roles, perfect for actors trained in elegantly chewing scenery while singing beautifully; and its deliciously farcical show-within-a-show plot, in which the warring ex-lovers (and ultra-dramatic stage stars) Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi work out their real-life frustrations in a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew (in which they play Petruchio and Katherine).

It's also an entertaining -- and, occasionally, uncomfortable -- treatment of gender politics, subtly updated for the current political moment in an excellent new production now playing at Broadway's Studio 54 and nominated for four Tony awards, including best revival of a musical and best performance by an actress in a leading role for Kelli O'Hara. In this week's episode of the Billboard on Broadway podcast, O'Hara (Lilli/Katharine) and co-stars Will Chase (Fred/Petruchio) and Corbin Bleu (Bill Calhoun) chat about approaching this classic show in a modern moment.

"I think there's something still wonderful about it to find out and to investigate [in the show], change if we need to, tweak if we need to, but not whitewash," says Chase of joining the production. "That's certainly why I said yes." As O'Hara explains, she was attracted by the opportunity to play out a great comedy in a moment when audiences need it -- as well as digging into the ways in which her role could be updated. "It feels good to just be laughing -- and also to highlight some grand misogyny, and poke fun at it, and also give women some backbone," she says.

As all three actors agree, singing Porter's singular score is one of the greatest draws of Kiss Me, Kate. "I've always felt like he puts all of his ideas on the page," says Bleu. "That's one of the most amazing things but can also be a pitfall about Cole Porter. ... Cole's writing is so witty, you have to keep finding new ideas and pushing it forward. He's a brilliant writer and he requires brilliant performers."

"For me, lyrics and music melding with the amount of different styles of music is insane," says Chase. "There's not a score like it." 

In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, the trio delve into their new explorations of the show's text, the challenges of performing Porter's music, and the stories behind the show's impressive onstage theatrics.

#BillboardOnBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardOnBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.