A guide to all the songs from 'Kiss Me, Kate'

As the Cole Porter classic returns to London, we take a look at its irrepressible score, including "Wunderbar", "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", and "Always True to You in My Fashion".

Julia Rank
Julia Rank

Wunderbar, wunderbar! There’s our favourite star above! Cole Porter’s Shakespeare-inspired 1949 classic Kiss Me, Kate won the first ever Tony Award for Best Musical and is famous for its lush and irreverent score. You can hear Porter's songs in all their glory at the Barbican this summer.

The show follows warring ex-spouses Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham as they play Kate and Petruchio in a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew. There's plenty of backstage farce and the show comprises numbers performed by the characters as themselves and songs that they perform as their characters. As life imitates art, it can get a bit meta!

With the lyrics, it’s clear to see Porter was testing how far he could push the envelope with the innuendo (several phrases and references were sanitised for the film version). It should be noted that some of the sentiments aren’t very politically correct. We’ll see if there’s a bit of revisionism in Bartlett Sher’s staging

At the Barbican, Broadway diva Stephanie J Block stars at Lilli/Kate, with Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar as Fred/Petruchio. In the meantime, there’s a host of recordings that you can listen to, including original stars Patricia Morison and Alfred Drake, the 1999 Broadway revival with Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell, and the most recent 2019 Broadway revival led by Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase. Learn more about the fabulous songs in our guide.

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"Another Op’nin’, Another Show"

The curtain rises on a flurry of activity with an ensemble number. It’s the final rehearsal for a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew and everyone is a bit stressed. It’s a familiar pattern: “Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse / Three weeks and it couldn't be worse / One week, will it ever be right? / Then out o' the hat, it's that big first night!” Fingers crossed everything goes according to plan!

"Why Can’t You Behave"

The show’s starlet Lois Lane (who plays Bianca) is fed up. Her boyfriend Bill Calhoun (who plays Lucentio), has missed the rehearsal due to his gambling habit. She’s given him so many chances but he never seems to learn. This time, he’s signed an £10,000 IOU as Fred Graham, who plays Petruchio in the show.


Fred and his leading lady Lilli Vanessi (Kate) catch up backstage – she’s also his ex-wife and it’s the anniversary of their divorce. She’s now engaged to a Washington bigwig, but they reminisce about the operetta that they were performing in when they first met. They sing the show’s waltz number, an expression of the giddiness of the first flush of love. “Life’s divine dear… and you’re mine, dear.” It’s clear that their chemistry still sizzles.

"So in Love"

Lilli receives a replica of her wedding bouquet, which stirs up further memories. In this lush and bittersweet ballad, she admits that she is still in love with Fred despite all the pain. “So taunt me, and hurt me / Deceive me, desert me / I'm yours, till I die...” It’s an exquisite love song but the gift isn’t quite so romantic – Fred prevents her from reading the card, which shows that they were intended for Lois.

"We Open in Venice"

It’s showtime! The actors in the show-within-a-show introduce themselves as an unpretentious band of players travelling around Italy bringing Shakespeare to the masses.

"Tom, Dick, or Harry"

Bianca, younger sister of the shrewish Kate, is inundated with suitors. Gremio, Lucentio, and Hortensio all propose marriage. Gremio offers wealth, Lucentio love, and Hortensio breeding. But it’s all academic as Bianca can’t get married until Kate does. This is one of the show’s key dance numbers.

"I’ve Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua"

Petruchio is upfront about his intention to marry into wealth. He doesn’t mind if his wife is a total horror as long as she has plenty of money to keep him comfortably.

"I Hate Men"

Kate is not impressed. In this fabulous tirade, she sets out her reasons never to marry. Firstly, she disdains “the athlete with his manner bold and brassy / He may have hair upon his chest, but, sister, so has Lassie”. With the businessman, “his business is the business that he gives his secretary”. A quiet older man doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but what looks like love is often diagnosed as rheumatism. There’s plenty of scope for going over the top with physical comedy and exaggerated facial expressions with this showstopper.

"Were Thine That Special Face"

Petruchio realises that his mercenary intentions won’t endear him to Kate and attempts to woo her with this romantic serenade.

"Kiss Me, Kate"

Just as Lilli is succumbing to Fred’s advances on and off stage, she reads the note accompanying the flowers intended for Lois. In the betrothal scene, she hits Fred and he retaliates. During the scene change, the gangsters chasing Bill’s IOU note hold Lilli at gunpoint. Back to the play, Petruchio and Kate are now married but she won’t oblige him when he orders her to “Kiss me, Kate”. Fred carries Lilli off over his shoulder while she pummels him. Curtain!

"Too Darn Hot"

The audience returns from the interval and the ensemble and crew, led by Fred’s dresser Paul, spend their break in the alley behind the theatre. Filled with pulsating beats and some suggestive lyrics (the “Kinsey Report” refers to a 1948 scholarly book about male sexual behaviour – a female one was published in 1953), it offers the opportunity for some spectacular dancing. This has to be one of the most sizzling Act 2 opening numbers - impotenence was never so hot!

"Where is the Life That Late I Led"

Back to the show, Petruchio laments his bachelor life in this not entirely politically correct number (but that’s OK when the lyrics are this good, right?). As a married man, “Raising an heir can never compare / With raising a bit of hell”. He remembers his many former girlfriends, including Lisa, who “gave a new meaning / To the Leaning Tower of Pisa”. Life with “only a shrew to kiss” is proving an adjustment.

"Always True to You in My Fashion"

Inspired by a satirical poem by Ernest Dowson with the refrain “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion”, Lois explains that it’s possible for her to be faithful to Bill but also willing to accept the advances of rich older men for the gifts they can provide. Porter doesn't even try to cloak the innuendo: “There's an oilman known as Tex / Who is keen to give me checks / And his checks, I fear, mean that sex / Is here to stay!” And who would say no to “Mr Gable – I mean Clark”, especially if it means a sable coat?


Lois is very different to her onstage character, the demure Bianca. Bill presents her with a song; you have to be creative with rhymes for “Bianca”. It concludes with “I would gladly give up coffee for Sanka” (an early decaffeinated instant alternative) and a tap routine.

So In Love (Reprise)

Lilli leaves the theatre with her fiancé. Fred is still in love with her – can he get her to change her mind? This reprise of the show’s love theme is his chance to show his softer side.

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

The gangsters aren’t so fearsome, and they're extremely quick-witted. To avoid capture, they improvise a very special vaudevillian-style tribute to Shakespeare. Just quote the Bard and “the women you will wow” (“If your baby is pleading for pleasure / Let her sample your Measure for Measure…”). Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing, Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It, and more are namechecked (special mention to Coriolanus). It’s quite the 11 o’clock number, with three applause breaks – there were never such literary and erudite gangsters. Who would have the heart to arrest them?

I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple

Lilli returns to the stage in time for Kate’s final speech, in which she implores wives to “hold your temper / And meekly put your hand 'neath the sole on your husband's foot”. In the 2019 Broadway revival, the song became the gender non-specific “I Am Ashamed That People Are So Simple”.

Kiss Me Kate (Reprise) – Act II Finale

The show is a hit! Fred and Lilli reconcile, as do Bill and Lois. Kisses all round!

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