In 1961, Frank Sinatra founded his own label, Reprise Records, in order to have complete control over his recording destiny. He also signed up many of his friends to contracts. In 1963, he conceived the idea of recording LPs of the songs from some of the most successful Broadway musicals of the late '40s and early '50s Finian's Rainbow, Kiss Me, Kate, South Pacific, and Guys and Dolls -- using his label roster as a kind of stock company. The albums should be characterized as "various-artists" albums, not "studio cast" albums, since the singers are not assigned to specific characters; they just sing a bunch of songs from the shows. In fact, while seemingly emptying the lounges of Las Vegas for the recordings, Sinatra also borrowed a small army of arrangers. Kiss Me, Kate features ten different performers -- Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., the Hi-Lo's, Dean Martin, Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, Lou Monte, Johnny Prophet, Dinah Shore, Keely Smith, and Jo Stafford -- singing to charts submitted by ten arrangers, including such Sinatra stalwarts as Nelson Riddle and Billy May. The result, of course, is Kiss Me, Kate, ring-a-ding-ding style, or at least in the traditional pop style common in the mid-'50s and in Las Vegas long after. That should make for a good recording, given that the songs from Kiss Me, Kate are full of naughty suggestiveness that a nightclub singer should be able to bring out. And when Sinatra, Martin, and Davis turn in a full-on Rat Pack rendition of "We Open in Venice," it looks like smooth sailing ahead. Unfortunately, that's the high point of the album. One problem is that, like the 1953 movie soundtrack makers before them, Sinatra and co. have seen fit to bowdlerize Cole Porter's lyrics. The words are not as sanitized as those in the film -- Davis still mentions the Kinsey Report in "Too Darn Hot," and Lou Monte refers to puberty in "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?" -- but elsewhere things get rather dainty. Also in "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?," several lines are altered to change "hell" to "heck," for example. A few of the more risqué songs, "Tom, Dick or Harry," "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," and "I've Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua," are simply missing. But the main failing of the recording is not the airbrushed lyrics, it's the lack of major talent. When Martin makes a gem out of the minor song "Bianca," it only goes to show what might have happened if B-list singers like Monte and Prophet had not been given major numbers. The big no-show, in fact, is Sinatra himself, who turns up only for "We Open in Venice" and on one of two full-length recordings of "So in Love," done as a duet with Keely Smith. The album would be much better if it were not so obviously intended as a sampler of the Reprise Records artist roster and featured more from Sinatra, Davis, and Martin.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann