It was just another high school musical in a time before Glee was a hit TV show. Two Toronto high schools joined forces to mount the Cole Porter classic Kiss Me, Kate. There were two big solo parts for girls. I wanted to be Kate. She gets to sing the love duets and slap Petruchio. It was a spirited role and I assumed it would be fun to stare down the guy cast in the lead and call him a bastard in strident theatrical tones.
The director of the show, in a prescient move, cast me instead as Kate’s younger, flirtatious sister, Bianca.
I’m a maid who would marry And will take with no qualm Any Tom, Dick or Harry, Any Harry, Dick or Tom, I’m a maid mad to marry And will take double-quick Any Tom, Dick or Harry, Any Tom, Harry or Dick.
The rehearsals lasted most of the winter. It was the best of times and… the best of times. By the spring thaw, those strident notes had dissolved into dulcet tones. We were a backstage secret kept by no one: Petruchio and Bianca had their own duet. It wasn’t in the script but Cole Porter had his fingers all over it.
In the years since that show, my Petruchio and I have seen Kiss Me, Kateperformed twice at Stratford, and once on Broadway, where we told the cast at the stage door that we had named our first child Kate.
This weekend, we will again watch a group of amateur performers ham it up in a Wavestage Theatre Company production of Kiss Me, Kate.
The cast includes a talented performer, my niece, Rhiannon Kyle, who is a far more serious minded Bianca than my precocious turn circa 1981. You won’t see it on stage but she has a plan.
Rhiannon has grown up juggling stage rehearsals and school work and says it is all about efficiency. Hers is a generation of sharp focus on the future which, for this teen, include studying international relations and politics. There is little to link her sophisticated turn in this classic show and mine but for some memorable tunes that are still playing in my head three decades later.
No video exists of that show long ago. You’ll just have to imagine me as a guileless teen with no shortage of chutzpah, tripping about the stage and having the time of my life. I didn’t know then it would be the script that stuck.
Here’s Broadway legend Ann Miller doing the same part to give you some idea.
Kiss Me, Kate is playing all weekend at the Newmarket Theatre. It will be easy to spot Peter and I in the audience. We’ll be the ones mouthing all the words.