I suppose there’s a better way of spending a summer evening than sitting on the Esplanade watching Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra collaborate on “Kiss Me, Kate” at the DCR Hatch Shell, but right now I can’t think of one. The 1948 Cole Porter hit, which won the first Tony awarded for best musical, is packed with great songs, from “Wunderbar” and “So in Love” to “Tom, Dick, or Harry,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” and “Too Darn Hot.” What’s more, though the Esplanade show had been advertised as “semi-staged,” it was fully and engagingly acted, with costumes and choreography. It lacked only sets, and those were easily imagined.
And the performers made the play-within-a-play plot easy to follow. It’s opening night in Baltimore for “Kiss Me, Kate,” a musical based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and starring Fred Graham as Petruchio and his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi, as Kate. Lilli’s planning to remarry, and Fred is romancing Lois Lane, who’s playing Bianca in the musical. Lois, however, already has a boyfriend, Bill Calhoun, who’s playing Lucentio in the musical. That’s only the beginning of Fred’s troubles: Bill has signed a $10,000 gambling IOU with Fred’s name, and the flowers, with incriminating card, that Fred had meant for Lois get delivered to Lilli instead.