Everything you need to know about 'Kiss Me, Kate'

The glorious Cole Porter musical is back in town this summer, with Stephanie J Block and Adrian Dunbar leading a new Barbican production.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

It’s too darn hot! This summer’s blistering musical entertainment is the big revival of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate at the Barbican, helmed by Broadway director Bartlett Sher, and starring Stephanie J Block, Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar, Charlie Stemp and Georgina Onuorah.

Porter’s backstage comedy is a joyous affair, riffing on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in its tale of warring exes who are forced to work together on a new musical – and who might just still have feelings for one another.

It’s jam-packed with toe-tapping numbers, such as “Why Can’t You Behave?,” “Tom, Dick and Harry,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and, of course, “Too Darn Hot.” Don’t miss out on this sizzling summer show.

Book Kiss Me, Kate tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

What is Kiss Me, Kate about?

Kiss Me, Kate follows the cast of a musical version of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew. Their rehearsals are fraught because of the tension between director/leading man Fred Graham (who is playing Petruchio) and his ex-wife and co-star Lilli Vanessi (Katherine). Lilli suspects Fred is having an affair with the sexy ingenue Lois Lane (Bianca), but Lois is actually worried about her gambler boyfriend Bill (Lucentio).

After Bill signs an IOU in Fred’s name, two armed gangsters turn up to threaten him. It’s actually fortuitous for Fred: Lilli, who is engaged to a big-shot politician, Harrison Howell – and who is furious when she discovers that Fred has been romancing her while also buying flowers for Lois – was on the verge of quitting. But the gangsters force her to stay, and the show goes on.

Howell turns up looking for Lilli, and Lois recognises him as a former lover. This annoys Bill, but she assures him that she’s faithful to him in her own way. The gangsters become inadvertent performers in the show. Finally, Lilli realises she loves both the theatre and Fred, and the pair reconcile.

Where is Kiss Me, Kate playing?

Kiss Me, Kate is playing at the Barbican in the City of London. The renowned arts centre is near St Paul’s Cathedral, Smithfield Market, and Liverpool Street station. The Barbican theatre space has a capacity of 1,156.

When can I see Kiss Me, Kate?

Kiss Me, Kate is running at the Barbican from 4 June to 14 September 2024, so it's perfect for some summer fun.

How long is Kiss Me, Kate?

The running time of Kiss Me, Kate is estimated to be 2 hours and 40 minutes, including an interval.

What days is Kiss Me, Kate playing?

Kiss Me, Kate plays six days a week at the Barbican, with matinee performances on Thursday and Saturday, and evening performances Monday through Saturday. For the complete performance schedule and show times, visit the Kiss Me, Kate page on London Theatre.

Major productions of Kiss Me, Kate

Kiss Me, Kate had its tryout run in Philadelphia in December 1948, then made its Broadway premiere later that same month. It was a huge hit with audiences, running for 19 months altogether, and it won the first ever Tony Award for Best Musical.

Kiss Me, Kate then had its West End premiere at the Coliseum Theatre (now the London Coliseum) in March 1951.

Since then it’s had numerous revivals, including a Tony Award-winning Broadway, and then West End, run in 1999 and 2001, directed by Michael Blakemore, and a Trevor Nunn-directed revival at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2012 starring Hannah Waddingham.

In 2019, Scott Ellis directed a big Broadway revival led by Kelli O’Hara, Will Chase, Stephanie Styles, and Corbin Bleu. Amanda Green made some “feminist” updates to the show in order to make it accessible for modern audiences – it will be interesting to see if Sher does the same with his Barbican production.

Read more about Kiss Me, Kate’s production history here.

What awards has Kiss Me, Kate won?

Plenty! The first Broadway production won five Tony Awards in total, including for Best Musical and Best Original Score.

It’s been garlanded further in its revivals too. The 1987 RSC production won two Olivier Awards for performances, and was nominated for Best Musical Revival. The 1999 Broadway revival won five Tony Awards, and that same production in London won the Evening Standard Award and Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical.

The 2012 London revival got five Olivier nominations, and, most recently, the 2019 Broadway revival got four Tony nominations, and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography.

Who stars in the London production?

Broadway star Stephanie J Block plays Lilli Vanessi. She won a Tony for her leading role in The Cher Show, and she’s also well known for her Elphaba in Wicked and The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods.

Fred Graham will be played by Adrian Dunbar. The Irish actor is beloved by TV viewers for his Superintendent Ted Hastings in BBC police drama Line of Duty, and he’s recently appeared on stage in Hamlet at the Young Vic, alongside Cush Jumbo. He’s now putting his Guildhall studies to use with his first professional musical.

The supporting cast features two exciting rising stars. Charlie Stemp wowed audiences in Crazy For You, Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence, while Georgina Onuorah made her mark in The Wizard of Oz and Oklahoma!.

Olivier Award nominee Nigel Lindsay, who starred in Shrek the Musical and the ITV series Victoria, and Hammed Animashaun (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Black Ops) have also been announced as joining the cast as the two gangsters.

Kiss Me, Kate characters

The fun of this musical is that everyone doubles up: they play an onstage and an offstage character, with plenty of parallels between them.

Fred Graham: Fred is the director-manager of this touring company, and also stars in the Taming of the Shrew musical as the eccentric, fortune-hunting Petruchio, who agrees to marry the “shrew” Katherine. In both cases he’s clever and witty, but his ego gets in the way.

Lilli Vanessi: Lilli is Fred’s ex-wife, and is reluctantly playing Katherine in his show. Her movie career is on the wane, and she’s thinking about retiring once she marries the powerful (but dull) politician Harrison Howell. Pride is her downfall – but can she admit what she really wants?

Lois Lane: Lois is making the move from dancing in a racy club to proper acting – under the mentorship of Fred Graham. She’s a savvy flirt, which annoys her boyfriend Bill, but equally she’s exasperated with his gambling. She plays Bianca, Katherine’s demure sister, in the show.

Bill Calhoun: Bill is a handsome, charming actor – but his wild backstage behaviour frequently gets him into trouble. He loves Lois, but both struggle with commitment. In the musical Bill plays Lucentio, one of Bianca’s competing suitors.

The gangsters: These two unnamed men invade the theatre after Bill gives their boss an IOU for $10,000 – they’ve come to collect. They threaten Fred and Lilli at gunpoint, but they gradually fall in love with theatre, and even perform a number themselves.

Who is in the Kiss Me, Kate creative team?

The glorious Kiss Me, Kate score (lyrics and music) was written by the inimitable Cole Porter. It’s a welcome return to the Barbican for Porter following the venue’s smash-hit production of Anything Goes.

The show’s book was scribed by the writing team of Samuel and Bella Spewack.

This Barbican production is directed by Barlett Sher. He’s been nominated for nine Tony Awards, and London has already seen several of his acclaimed productions – such as the musicals My Fair Lady and The King and I, and the plays Oslo and To Kill A Mockingbird.

The choreography is by Anthony Van Laast, who past work includes Mamma Mia!, his Tony-nominated Bombay Dreams, plus the movies Beauty and the Beast, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.

Which songs are in Kiss Me, Kate?

Act 1

"Another Op'nin', Another Show" – Hattie and Company "Why Can't You Behave?" – Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun "Wunderbar" – Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi "So in Love" – Lilli Vanessi "We Open in Venice" – Fred Graham, Lilli Vanessi, Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun "Tom, Dick or Harry" – Bianca, Lucentio, Gremio and Hortensio "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" – Fred Graham and The Men "I Hate Men" – Lilli Vanessi "Were Thine That Special Face" – Fred Graham "We Sing of Love (Cantiamo D'Amore)" – Lois Lane, Bill Calhoun and Ensemble "Kiss Me, Kate" – Fred Graham, Lili Vanessi and Ensemble

Act 2

"Too Darn Hot" – Paul and Ensemble "Where is the Life That Late I Led?" – Fred Graham "Always True to You in My Fashion" – Lois Lane "From This Moment On" – Harrison Howell and Lilli Vanessi "Bianca" – Bill Calhoun and Company "So in Love" (Reprise) – Fred Graham "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" – First Gangster and Second Gangster "I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple" – Lilli Vanessi "Kiss Me, Kate" (Reprise/Finale) – Company

Fun facts about Kiss Me, Kate

  • This backstage comedy has yet another fun layer of real life to it. Producer Arnold Saint-Subber got the idea after seeing husband-and-wife team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne bickering during their production of The Taming of the Shrew – and he then commissioned warring couple the Spewacks to write it.
  • Porter was inspired by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ground-breaking integrated musicals, like Oklahoma!. Kiss Me, Kate is his first musical in which the music is woven into the story.
  • The show is in the fine tradition of shows-within-shows, such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. In this case, The Taming of the Shrew is cleverly used to mirror or further the real-life drama.
  • The Act 2 opener “Too Darn Hot” became a breakout hit, recorded by artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, and Petula Clark. It's also referenced by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his musical In the Heights.

How do I book tickets for Kiss Me, Kate?

This rip-roaring musical promises to be the hit of the summer. You can get booking for it now – and remember to brush up your Shakespeare beforehand!

Book Kiss Me, Kate tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Photo credit: artwork for Kiss Me, Kate. (Photo courtesy of production)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive London theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy