Friday, October 16, 2015
Kiss Me, Kate Meets Cinderella
Cole Porter often wrote songs with the vocal range of the actor/singer in mind. But he started writing for Kiss Me, Kate before all the roles were cast, especially the female lead, the characters of Lilli and Kate. In the early stages, opera star Jarmilla Novotna was the likely choice. But eventually she couldn't commit to the show.
Cole Porter offered the role to another operatic singer and actor, Lily Pons, and considered yet another opera singer, Dorothy Kirsten. Pons couldn't do it, and Kirsten wasn't interested. So Porter found himself without a leading lady.
The show’s director suggested an unknown: Patricia Morison, not an opera singer or a professional singer of any kind. She was a working movie actress in supporting roles, from B pictures (Queen of the Amazons) to a cut above that. She has the distinction of performing in the last film of three popular series: the Thin Man, the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan and the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes.
Though she sang for soldiers on USO tours and at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II, she hadn’t sung a note in the movies. Cole Porter invited her to sing for him at his house in Hollywood. Her agent told her it wasn’t for any particular role, and she did it just for the contact and the experience. But according to Porter, as soon as she walked in he knew she was the one—if she could sing.
After she’d taken lessons to strengthen her voice, worked on some of the show's songs and brushed up her Shakespeare, Porter was even more convinced. He believed that overnight she might become “a great new star.”
But the producers were still considering other possibilities, and the writers had to be consulted. Unfortunately they were all in New York, and Patricia couldn’t afford the plane fare to go meet them. Then out of the blue she was invited to sing at a Bob Hope USO reunion concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The producers and writer Bella Sprewack were in the audience, and they all were enthusiastic.
It was a Cinderella story for real. After 1,077 performances on Broadway, Patricia Morison starred in the London production for another 400 performances.
In the backstory she created for Lilli, Morison used her own life--disillusioned with Hollywood, seeking redemption through a hit stage play.
Morison had another success in the original production of The King and I, both on Broadway and on its national tour. She subsequently sang in many touring musicals, and performed her starring role in Kiss Me, Kate many times, including in a television movie in 1964, onstage in Seattle in 1965 and for the last time, in Birmingham, England in 1978—30 years after her Broadway opening.