IConsider the following Shakespearean ode: "Of all the men I've ever met
Within our demo-cracy
I hate the most the athlete
With his manner bold and brassy
He may have hair upon his chest
But sister, so has Lassie.
Oh I hate men!"
OK. You're right. It's Cole Porter, not Shakespeare. He and book writers Bella and Sam Spewack created a backstager about ructions and rivalry in a touring company putting on The Taming of the Shrew. Kiss Me Kate only managed one favourable review when it opened on Broadway in 1948... all the rest were outright raves. It's Porter's best, most unified show with an embarassment of good songs.
Since then, one or two other people have smartened up their Shakespeare with a few tunes. Hmm. Nice idea. Heck, it worked for Verdi and a whole lot more besides. In fact, you may like to know that there are at least 300 operas based wholly or in part on the work of Guglielmo Shakespeare (as he was called in Tomaso Benvenuti's 1861 bio-opera). There are at least 11 Romeo and Juliet operas, but the hands-down winner is The Tempest which weighs in with 13 and that's not even counting Tippett's The Knot Garden which makes great play on the subject.
And what about musicals, like the smash-hit Return to the Forbidden Planet. Like its B-movie progenitor, this was a sci-fi update of The Tempest which originally appeared without Fifties rock'n'roll songs. (Some playwrights just don't have a clue about commercial potential, do they?)
Excluding West Side Story, most other Shakespeare-based musicals have met with, shall we say, slightly less success. OK, it's not hard to guess the bardic antecedent of The Two Gentlemen of Verona but does anyone recall Fire Angel? I thought not. 'Twas The Merchant of Venice in a former life. Catch My Soul, anybody? Why, that would be Othello. Nightshriek? Macbeth, of course. Finally, we turn to Antony and Cleopatra. I'm not aware that anyone has yet made that into a musical (although Samuel Barber turned it into a post-Romantic opera) but Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra became Her First Roman. You're thinking I'm having you on. I'm not. It included the number "I Fell In With Evil Companions" and if anyone has the sheet music I'll pay good money to lay my hands on it.Reuse content