Sometimes shows are great. Great director, great cast, great team, smooth sailing and joy for all. Sometimes it’s…a little more of an uphill battle.
Kiss Me Kate has never been one of my all-time favorite shows, but it’s a classic, it’s Cole Porter, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to audition. I knew I wasn’t right for Lilli/Kate and only slightly right for Lois/Bianca, but the ensemble is extremely active and I knew it would be a lot of fun.
If you haven’t seen the show, Kiss Me Kate is a show-within-a-show based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The main crux of the plot is centered on Lilli, former theatre actress turned Hollywood star, and Fred, a well-renowned stage actor. Also they recently got divorced and they hate each other. They’re performing as the already contentious characters of Kate and Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew, and it’s a hot mess. Also Fred’s new girlfriend is also in the show, and there’s a case of mistaken identity that involves a pair of bumbling gangsters causing trouble. All in all, good times are had. The show was originally produced in 1948 and revived several times since then, including a very well-received 1999 revival. (This will be important in a moment.)
I was actually cast as Hattie, a supporting role. Hattie is Lilli’s extremely loyal assistant, and I ended up having a lot of fun with the part. I played her as very sassy- lots of shade, lots of side eye. And of course she hates Fred because Lilli hates Fred. It was a great time, especially since I ended up being in part of the Shakespearean ensemble as well with three of my favorite theatre friends (Lauren, Raven, and Erin were part of Seussical too so it was great having a reunion in the same show). But…then, my friends, the fit hit the shan.
The director was adamant that we were doing the original 1948 production, which is, admittedly, extremely dated and had some material that needed a change. But we plugged away at it steadily, waiting for the day our vocal tracks would come in. But lo and behold…our vocal tracks were from the 1999 revival and they were drastically different. Nothing matched the sheet music we’d been rehearsing, timing was off, some songs (like Lois’s big act two number) were in a completely different key. As Hattie, I was singing lead on the opening number, which is a fairly well known musical theatre song.
NOTHING MATCHED. I was trying to sing the 1948 version to the very different 1999 version, and nothing aligned, especially towards the end with all the vamping. The director didn’t hear the difference and kept scolding me for not singing it correctly, and we didn’t have a music director (another layer of stress), and when we did have someone to come in and clean up music, he was like “…just do the best you can.” So I made it up. Sorry, Cole Porter.
There were a lot of other roadblocks- a lack of men for necessary roles, portions of songs getting cut down while other songs got all of their reprises and encores, endless choreography changes, a set that didn’t function well for what we needed, a leading man who never learned his lines so it was an adventure every performance. And the costumes. Dear glory, no one was in the correct era. The 40s scenes were pretty good; the ensemble had a pretty good handle of the right clothing. But the Shakespeare costumes were all over the place. Erin’s was nice; it looked like one of Danielle’s peasant dresses from Ever After. Raven wore what we called “Party City Rapunzel” and Lauren wore a dress that looked like she was waiting for the Civil War to be over. It was quite a time.
I ended up making both of my costumes. My 1940s dress was made from Simplicity 1459, with two key modifications. The original pattern calls for a side zipper, but I had too many costume switches in this show for that nonsense. I changed the side zipper to a very very long back zipper, to make it easier to get in and out of the dress. This also meant the back of the collar was separated instead of one continuous piece, which didn’t look as clean and pretty, but oh, well. I had a 30 second costume change before “We Open in Venice” in the middle of act one, and I didn’t have time for side zippers.
(Also just look at all the sass in that picture.)
I used a nice cotton floral print for the body of the dress and a maroon cotton for the sailor collar and sash (which was sewn to the dress, because I also did not have time to tie and untie a sash). The maroon buttons were stitched to the front of the bodice as well, because I didn’t want to take the risk of a button popping out in the middle of the show.
I honestly can’t remember now if I changed the cut of the skirt from the pattern version or not. I think I kept it. In any case, it is an extremely full circle skirt, and I borrowed a chiffon petticoat from the theater to pop underneath. And I wore my black character shoes.
(It’s a blurry picture from the audience, but you can see how much volume my skirt had!)
For the Shakespeare dress, I modified an out of print pattern, Simplicity 8735. It’s the original version of the Ever After dress patterns (and I suspect that Erin’s dress was made from the same pattern). I wanted the look of a chemise/skirt/bodice, but without multiple pieces because costume changes. I used a brown linen for the bodice (unlined), white muslin for the sleeves/bodice inset/underskirt, and a very light pink cotton for the overskirt.
(Erin is on my right with a truly epic facial expression.)
I inverted the bodice so it pointed down instead of pointing up, and lengthened it instead of leaving it an empire waist. The lacing is stitched directly to the bodice, and the (extremely wide) sleeves are trimmed with extremely wide eyelet. I also stitched eyelet trim to the neckline as well.
The skirt is in two layers, a white muslin layer and a pink cotton, and they’re both plain dirndls with a lot of width. I do mean a lot. This thing swirled like it was its job. Which, well, it kind of was. I also made the cap from the pattern from the same pink of the skirt; I stitched a clear plastic comb at the top so it could slide right into my hair and decorated it with pale pink silk roses.
Have I mentioned that I had to switch shoes in these costume changes too? I had black character shoes for the 40s and nude character shoes for Shakespeare. Oy.
(me exchanging a look with Lois, played by Merissa, who later played Shelly in Evil Dead. Also isn’t Erin the cutest? She made her yellow floral dress from a vintage reprint McCall’s pattern that I almost used.)
Was this my most successful show? No. Was it my favorite show? No. Did I learn a lot? Absolutely. Even if you’re in a show that puts you through a lot of struggle, you can always take it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Plus, I got to pretend I was Rachel Berry for a while.
Plus I got to do a show with some of my besties. And that’s always worth it. #memegirlsquad
I also rocked some pretty great 1940s style hair and makeup, so comment below if you’d like to see a video tutorial!