On the surface, Kiss Me Kate is a delightful, bouncy musical comedy. But reading through the script and watching an excellent unabridged production on YouTube (ahh, the wonders of YouTube), I found that the play explores intriguing themes in its layered plot.
As much as I love the comedy, the music, and the Shakespeare, the authors of Kiss Me Kate slid in more than a few suggestive gags. Admittedly, this is in the tradition of their inspiration, the Bard of Stratford on Avon. Still, several of the play’s showstopper songs are singularly sensual. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is a witty duet which showcases famous Shakespearean quotes and plays in its lyrics. While the word play is delightful, it’s quite awkward because the song is also about using Shakespeare to seduce “yer goil.”
“Always True to You” always brings the house down. In her big solo, Lois Lane sings about how she will cheat with any man if there’s something in it for her, but reassures her beau that she’s always true to him “In my fashion.” Do I really need to tell you what the song “Too Darn Hot” is about? So why all the suggestive humor? The authors still could have told a hilarious story without so much of it. However, when trying to decide if something is appropriate or not, I think it’s better to look at what the story says about certain behavior, rather than count how many times it references certain behavior. Questions I ask when I watch any movie or play include “What is the moral? What ideas are the authors trying to sell me? What behavior are they celebrating/ridiculing?” Does Kiss Me Kate celebrate promiscuity? I don’t think so, though I admit someone could make the case that it does. One might argue that Kiss Me Kate showcases these immoral characters, paints a positive picture of them, portrays them as fun and cheerful. Even though some of the characters live amoral life styles, I don’t think the authors were encouraging bad behavior at all. For example, let’s take the two unnamed gangsters. The two comedic bruisers are my favorite characters in the play. Does that mean the authors are celebrating violence and encouraging us to join the mob? Of course not! Furthermore, take Lois Lane: she is the definitive ditsy blond. The authors certainly don’t think that Lane is the example people should follow. Though Kiss Me Kate presents the audience with many examples of immorality, it uses these elements to send a positive message about good behavior.