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The Broadway Musical Has a Man Problem

Mei 02, 2019
Category: Art & Culture,Theater

But it also raises the question: What is the point of him? One crucial moment in the film, when Edward’s smug lawyer attacks Vivian and Edward pulls him off her and punches him in the face, is rewritten so that Vivian is the one who lands the blow. This helps build her into a totally self-sufficient character, but it reduces Edward to a sentient A.T.M.

O.K.: A singing A.T.M. When Edward is not receiving implied oral sex, he is crooning Bryan Adams tunes straight to the audience with lines like “She really is quite something / more than meets the eye.”

The “Pretty Woman” team seems to have decided that what would drag its story into the 21st century was for Edward to become more sincerely romantic. This helps make the show the rare update that is more offensive than the original. The musical opens with a dead prostitute in a dumpster, just like the movie, but this time, she is surrounded by the prostitutes and panhandlers of Hollywood Boulevard, dancing and singing about their hopes and dreams.

Following a troupe of actors staging a musical based on “The Taming of the Shew,” “Kiss Me, Kate” is dealing with even darker source material, and an almost irredeemable leading man — he is not merely gruffly paternalistic but actually abusive. When it debuted in 1948, the toxic masculinity of its male protagonist wasn’t just an unfortunate detail; it was the main event.

The plot has Fred and his ex-wife, Lilli, reuniting for Shakespeare, and just as the sadistic Petruchio starves Kate until she literally allows him to walk all over her, Fred terrorizes Lilli until she, too, submits. The first act ends with Fred violently spanking her onstage, which prompted the theater critic from The New York World-Telegram to praise Fred’s “confident swagger.”

The new Roundabout Theater Company version cuts the corporal punishment — instead, Fred and Lilli both kick each other in the pants, and the script wrings humiliating humor out of both of their inconveniently placed sores. Mostly, they use their words. Lilli earns some sharper comebacks in this version, and Fred’s hulking demeanor is whittled down enough until he becomes a teasing thorn in her side.

The show’s smartest move is to transpose Petruchio’s character traits onto Lilli’s alternate love interest, her very important Washington fiancée. In the original, he is merely a bore. But here, the fiancée is a control freak who seeks to whisk her away from the theater and dictate her diet and wardrobe with military precision. This time, when Lilli chooses Fred in the end, she is also choosing her career, herself, and her closet, thank you very much.

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