Liam Nolan charts the stories of the world’s best loved musicals. No. 4 – ‘Kiss Me, Kate’
Cole Albert Porter began studying the violin at the age of six, and the piano at the age of eight. Although showing talent at both, he decided that he didn’t like the violin, so he abandoned it, and concentrated instead on the piano. He practised two hours every day. Occasionally his mother sat at the piano with him, and they had fun making up parodies of the popular songs of the day.
Cole was 10 when he began composing. This son of an extremely wealthy family went on to become an international sensation as a composer and songwriter. The New Yorker described him as “almost inhumanly prolific.”
At Yale University he wrote over 300 songs, including songs for six full-scale musical comedies put on by the Yale Dramatic Association and the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. But he had his eye on Broadway. That’s where he wanted to be a success. It was slow in coming.
His first show (‘See America First’, in 1916) lasted for a mere 15 performances. So he hightailed it out of New York and went to live in Paris. There, according to Songwriters Hall of Fame, he enjoyed “Paris’s fabulous social life, an endless stream of extravagant parties full of international celebrities… cross dressers, artists and eccentrics, accompanied by alcohol and other drugs, and featuring an assortment of gay and bisexual activity.”
He married a wealthy American divorcee, kept on composing shows and writing hit songs and, in 1934, came his greatest (so far) score for a show — ‘Anything Goes’. And then, in 1948, his masterpiece arrived — ‘Kiss Me Kate’.
He wrote the score while recovering from his 21st surgical operation following a horrendous horse-riding accident in which both his legs were crushed, and his nervous system damaged. Despite intense physical pain, he turned out amazing songs like ‘Wunderbar’, ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’, ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘From This Moment On’, ‘Where Is The Life that Late I Led?’, and ‘Another Openin’, Another Show’.
‘Kiss Me Kate’ was Porter’s response to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Carousel’, and was the first show he wrote in which the music and lyrics were firmly connected to the script. It was to prove Porter’s only show to run for more than a thousand performances on Broadway.
But how and why did it come about?