COLE PORTER is the New Haven grad who wrote "Bulldog, bulldog, bow-wow-wow, Eli Yale." Deciding to turn to better things, he came to Harvard, but he left Law School, deciding to turn to still better things. The best of those better things is Kiss Me, Kate, a delightful major musical based on delightful minor Shakespeare, and it's surprising, for a farce, how major a portion of the score was composed in the minor mode.
How many musicals are there without a single weak song? This is one of them--with a dozen and a half numbers that rate A's and B's in anyone's grade book. Porter wrote his own witty lyrics, too, full of hilariously clever rhymes.
Stephen Slane first opened his 1700-seat North Shore Music Theater with Kiss Me, Kate, and is now celebrating his 20th season with a new production of the same work. After the first few performances, Swedish director and choreographer Dania Krupska will have tightened a few slacks in pace, a few fluffed lines will have vanished, and the show will be shipshape.
In the leading roles, Chita Rivera is a properly fiery and recalcitrant Katherine-Lilli; especially effective is her "I Hate Men." And Hal Linden, if no Alfred Drake, is a solid enough Petruchio-Fred, notably in "Where Is the Life?"
The production's chief ornament, however, is the Lucentio Bill of Gilbert Price, fresh from his astounding performances as the leading character in Mahagonny at Yale and his triumph in the principal role of Bernstein's Mass at Berkeley. Price is, not to beat about the bush, the best baritone in the business. Here he is charming as he sings "Bianca" with a single pink posy in his palms, and duets with his dazzling damozel (Norma Donaldson) in "Always True to You in My Fashion." In addition, this show allows him to exhibit a lot of mercurial movement and supple dancing. Price is, as Cole Porter might have put it, priceless.
In the rest of the cast, only Bonnie Franklin, as Gabriella, is clearly beyond her depth as she performs "I Sing of Love." Porter's most zestful and zany show is always welcome, particularly in a version as generally diverting as this. So "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" and get on out there.