NO THEATRE GUILD ATTRACTION ARE WE:
KISS ME KATE AND THE POLITICS OF THE INTEGRATED MUSICAL
Rebellato, Dan. '"No Theatre Guild Attraction Are We": Kiss Me, Kate and the Politics of the Integrated Musical.' Contemporary Theatre Review 19.1 (February 2009): 61-73.
The standard history of the musical pivots around Oklahoma! which is said to be the first musical to finally, fully and most satisfyingly integrated all the elements of the musical - book, music, lyrics, dancing, character, etc. - into one seamless narrative whole. It’s a picture that dominates musical historiography; the period before Oklahoma! is seen as a preparation for integration, the period after the working through and reaction against integration.
In this essay I argue that this distorts the significance of the musical before Oklahoma! and downplays its politics and its pleasure. Cole Porter was one of the giants of the pre-Oklahoma! musical and it’s clear in the 1930s that he had no interest in integration. He loved the flashy song that departed from story and character, moments of self-conscious lyrical cleverness. But some critics think Kiss Me, Kate is his attempt to write a musical in the Rodgers and Hammerstein mould.
I argue that he may well be responding to the integrated musical, but rather than kowtow to the new orthodoxy, he is playing with it. The essay demonstrates the multiple pleasurable confusions between levels of the narrative, the puzzles that a strictly ‘integrated’ perspective on the musical must face. I suggest that by creating these moments of undecidability, Porter is opening up a less hierarchical kind of political pleasure, rooted in the psychoanalytic notion of the ‘Semiotic’ rather than the ‘Symbolic’.
You can read the essay here.