Kiss Me Kate: 1956

In 1956, Kiss Me Kate‘s conquest of the German-speaking nations of Europe, begun at the end of the previous year, was consolidated: the Berlin production went on from strength to strength, and others opened in Hamburg, Graz, Nuremberg (with a new orchestration by the famous film composer Peter Kreuder), Baden-Baden, Munich, Vienna (which you can read more about here) and Basel; by the end of the 1956-57 season, there had been more than 500 KMK performances in Germany, accruing substantial royalties. Bella Spewack assigned her share to a Tel Aviv sports center named in her honor – which was really a form of post-war reparation channeling money from Germany to Israel.

Munich invited American singer Marti Stevens to come over and be spanked (along with all the other things the role of Lilli entails).

She decided not to, and the role went instead to Lola Müthel, who had been the first German Lilli in the 1955 Frankfurt production. Fred was Johannes Heesters, whose extensive credentials as a spanker on stage and screen we shall explore another time. The production opened at the Theater am Gärtnerplatz in October… which means we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Meanwhile, in America, May 9 began three weeks’ worth of this for Kitty Carlisle:

She was starring with the City Center Light Opera Company, New York, and being spanked by David Atkinson. According to the New York Times,

‘the Petruchio and Kate in the Spewack version of the Shakespeare farce whack and scuffle beyond the call of duty. Kitty Carlisle, a woman of poise in civil life, and David Atkinson, who is, naturally, a gentleman, play these parts at the City Center with fury and abandon.’

The spanking scene also featured in the advertising:

(Singer Jill Corey also auditioned for the role, but lost out to Kitty. And Kitty had been considered to be the original Lilli back in 1948, but that time she was the one who lost out, to Patricia Morison.)

And at the same time, over in California, May 9-12 saw KMK produced by the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera Association, with John Shafer (who had previously played Fred in Los Angeles the year before) spanking Jane Guthrie, ‘a regal as well as a tempestuous Kate’:

And if you couldn’t get tickets for the City Center, there was always the Aquinas Institute in Charlotte, New York, where Kiss Me Kate was staged May 18-19, and featured Ron Zlotnik dealing thus with Carol Wiest:

And that may be a premature end for the American dimension of 1956, but it’s all we have! Though it is worth returning to the subject of the musical’s international penetration to note the premiere of the first Swiss production, in Zurich on October 19, with the leads played by Peter Schütte and Maj Lindström,

who had previously played Lois at Gothenburg in 1953 and was now promoted to Lilli. (She was Lilli again in Malmo in 1963, on which occasion she was spanked by Lars Ekman.)

And with that, we head for 1957.

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