Musical Album review: Kiss Me Kate (1949)

2 Mar

kiss me kate


I was going to review the Oscars, but I’m still mad at the Oscars because of including too many best picture nominees, so I’m not watching them this year.   When they bring it back down to five (which is a manageable number to review and compare) or when I’m done being in a huff I’ll return.  In the meantime, I want to review the albums for the Best Musical category of the Tonys.

Awards are a combination of three things:  advertising the latest product, rewarding exceptional work, and keeping a list of notable works for posterity.  Add to that politics, and outside influences (like someone who recently died or a scandal).   This makes awards very subjective.  Sometimes they’re so commercial that they become meaningless (the Grammys), sometimes they award someone’s career rather than the work at hand (The Oscars have suffered with this the most), sometimes they get sucked into the zeitgeist of a current piece rather than choosing the item that will hold up over time.

At least for the best musical category, the Tony’s have done a pretty good job.  If you look at the winners, nearly every significant musical has won this category.  Now, that doesn’t mean I think each winner is equally good, personally I loathe Cats, but I can’t deny that it should have won that year.   Even the lesser known winners are interesting because they mark weak years in Broadway–it’s not like something else (usually) turned out to be a classic that was snubbed at the time.

So we begin with Kiss Me Kate– and I can’t think of a better show to be the first to win best musical.  We’ve got Cole Porter at the top of his game, a story based in Shakespeare that still manages to be fun, back stage shenanigans, and a lot of word play.     Now, I can’t really go back to 1948 and see the show, so I’m not rating that, but the 1948 soundtrack is available, and that’s what I’m talking about here.

The mood is both sophisticated and randy (perfect for Shakespeare, eh?) most of the wordplay has to do with sexual innuendos.   So for instance, with the song “Tom, Dick, or Harry” Cole Porter is very much aware that Dick has two meanings.   The music is just bursting with energy–the best song being Too Darn Hot, and all the songs are pretty short–clocking at about 3 minutes apiece, which is rare for any musical.   The only song I did not like was the closing song–I Am Ashamed that Women are so Simple–it’s a downer ending, the tune is inert, and the mood is a complete left turn from the playful romps that all the previous songs had.

For a soundtrack from 1948 the singers are very listenable.   Their voices aren’t necessarily swoon-worthy, but they have a nice modern tone that fits the Shakespearean invective and the Jazz age lingo very well.   Highly recommended.

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