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Kiss of the Spider Woman

a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Book by Terrence McNally, Based on the novel by Manuel Puig

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4347

SHOWING : August 22, 2012 - October 07, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, and Molina, a gay window dresser, develop an uneasy friendship rooted in surviving life in a Latin American prison. As the bond between the two men deepens, Molina escapes to a fantasy world of the movies he loved as a child and he conjures a beautiful and beguiling screen enchantress. The line between reality and fantasy begins to blur -- and the danger mounts -- in this mesmerizing classic from the songwriting team of Chicago and Cabaret and the four-time Tony Award winning author of Love! Valor! Compassion!


CAST & CREW LIST
Choreographer Ricardo Aponte
Director Freddie Ashley
Music Director Seth Davis
Warden John Benzinger
Esteban Matthew Busch
Aurora/Spider Woman Liberty Cogen
Marcos Andrew Faber
Ensemble Joshua Gilyard
Molina's Mother Patty C. Guenthner
Ensemble Cody Jarrell
Ensemble Jason-Jamal Ligon
Marta Paige Mattox
Ensemble Christopher Repotski
Valentin Bryant Smith
Ensemble Jeremy Varner
Molina Craig Waldrip
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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The Web of Kander and Ebb
by Dedalus
Thursday, December 20, 2012
3.5
John Kander and Fred Ebb never fail to weave a seductive web of words and music to pull us into a show. From hits like "Cabaret" and "Chicago" to lesser known "near-misses" like "The Act" and "70 Girls 70," their scores bring to life characters and stories that linger long after the final curtain falls.

I've been a fan of "Kiss of the Spider Woman" ever since its 1992 opening, having devoured the original Manuel Puig novel as well as the 1985 movie adaptation. I saw Chita Rivera dazzling in the first nationwide tour, and, truth to tell, that may have hurt my full enjoyment of this scaled-down production. Although most of the �make-it-smaller� choices work quite well, a few (barely) miss. And, although the two actors in the lead roles captivate and make us forget �those who have played them before,� the Spider-Woman / Aurora at the center is talented and lovely, but bland and not particularly memorable.

The scene is a grungy grimy prison cell in a nameless South American country. Molina is a gay window dresser serving a number of years for �corrupting the morals of a minor � male.� He is joined by Valentin, a revolutionary fresh off the torture train. What follows is a number of overlapping �battles of wills� � Valentin keeping his distance from his �fairy� cellmate, Molina sharing his fantasies and memories of movie star Aurora and the cheesy musicals she made, the warden trying to get information out of Valentin that would �break the ring of revolutionaries,� the prisoners trying to hold onto their lives �Over the Wall� before they fall victim to hopelessness or disease or the torturers� kindnesses.

If this sounds dark and depressing, it often is. But more often than not, it�s filled with exuberance and passion and love-of-the-life-we-left-behind. What other musical would dare to end with a non-ironic �Only in the Movies� song-and-dance number sparked by {spoiler ahead} the death of a character? What other musical would make it seem like a happy ending?

The heart and soul of this production is Craig Waldrip�s Molina. The flashiest of roles, it always attracts over-the-top performances (Brent Carver won a Tony for the original production, and William Hurt won his Oscar for the non-musical movie version). Mr. Waldrip�s singular achievement is to make me forget those earlier performances (and others I have seen over the years). He flounces, of course, but he also finds a passion that transcends the role � his love of movies, his flair for story-telling, his desire for love � all spring not from eccentricity or camp, but from a palpable dark center that DEMANDS these traits, that holds onto them as dearly as a drowning man grasps a lifeline. This is (by far) the best work I�ve seen from Mr. Waldrip, and the best musical performance I�ve seen all year.

He is matched song-for-song, line-for-line, darkness-for-darkness by Bryant Smith�s Valentin. This is a man devoted more to his friends than to his �cause� � his �anthem,� �The Day After That,� makes it clear that he is as disillusioned with the baseless rhetoric of his idealistic leaders as he was disillusioned by the promises of institutionalized religion that radicalized him. But, for his friends, he would do anything, and it is his recognition that Molina would similarly do �Anything for Him� that drives the final fatal choices made in the cell.

One of the biggest mistakes the movie made was to make Aurora and her movies propaganda films of the fascist government � a choice that made Molina�s idolization of her and his obsession with the movies seem like the actions of a blind-sided cultist � it truly undercut his intelligence and wisdom, a shortcoming William Hurt�s performance actually succeeded in overcoming. Here, fortunately, Aurora�s movies are escapist musicals filled with BIG emotions and simple moral choices � their world is Technicolor pure, not the ambiguous shades-of-gray world of the prison, and the contrast couldn�t be more vital. These musical interludes are what keeps Molina going, and it doesn�t take long for Valentin to also rely on them to put aside the harsh realities both inside and outside the cell.

I just wish Liberty Cogen made for a more compelling Aurora. True, it�s hard to compete with the memory of Chita Rivera, but that�s what I would have said about Brent Carver and William Hurt. Ms. Cogen sings and dances well, but she is far too low key, too I�m-relying-on-my-microphone-instead-of-my-belt, too play-it-safe-in-the-cheesy-movie-parts, This comes to a head in the second act during the title song, which should be a suspenseful ode to danger, an enticement to embrace death with a final kiss. The razzle-dazzle original cast had Chita River crawling over a full stage web and luring even the deafest audience member with her spell. Here, Ms. Cogen paces back and forth on an overhead walkway, and doesn�t let her voice grow stronger than a melodic whisper. It�s a concert, not a seduction, and it almost killed the final sequence for me.

Other than that, I truly loved how director Freddie Ashley scaled down everything to just the cell, with the prisoners becoming Aurora�s �Chorus Boys� without losing their prison uniforms � a dose of reality to temper the flights of fantasy. I loved how cabling imitated jail cells and let Ricardo Aponte�s choreography lift the cast and anchor them, often at the same time. I loved how the music of Kander and Ebb pulled me into the story and wouldn�t ease its death-grip on my attention until the final kiss.

Okay, I missed the large choral sound of �The Day After That� with its echoes of Argentinean documentaries of �The Disappeared,� and missed (a little) some of the flash and dazzle of Aurora�s �boys.� But even these were replaced by thoughtful and evocative images that served the story well. They were smaller, more elegant strands of the web this show weaves, different, but not weaker.

So the mark of a good musical is the romantic feel it gives you when it ends with a kiss. Like all good musicals �Kiss of the Spider Woman� does indeed end with a kiss. It�s the mark of truly great musical when the kiss means something totally unexpected and, perhaps, dark.

It�s really what�s waiting in the center of the web spun by Kander and Ebb, by Freddie Ashley and his production team, and by Craig Waldrip and Bryant Smith.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

�
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Feel the Kiss
by playgoer
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
4.5
"Kiss of the Spider Woman," the Tony-winning best musical of 1993, fits a Kander & Ebb score to a Manuel Puig plot concerning flamboyant Molina (played by Craig Waldrip) and his socialist/activist cellmate Valentin (Bryant Smith). There's a lot of Broadway-style glitz and a lot of heart too. Messrs. Waldrip and Smith drive the show, and do a wonderful job of it. Their individual performances work beautifully, and mesh and contrast in all the ways that the script requires.

The hard-working male ensemble carries Ricardo Aponte's active choreography throughout the show, although Liberty Cogen's Aurora (the Spider Woman) gets a choreographic workout too. The other two females in the cast (Patty Guenther, as Molina's mother, and Paige Mattox, as Valentin's girlfriend Marta) rely on their wonderful voices and basic blocking to make an impact.

The set, designed by Philip Male, and lighting, designed by Joseph P. Monaghan III, have an excitement of their own. Cables strung as prison bars frame the set, which consists of platforms and stairs on either side, with a two-tiered section in the middle, with the central portion of the lower portion acting as a prison cell, but retracting to allow a larger space for dancing. Lighting effects play across the stage and color the cyc, focusing the action effectively.

The dramatics of the piece work, but not flawlessly. John Benzinger's warden has apparently been directed by Freddie Ashley to be dispassionate and/or passionless, but he seems to be walking through the role. The fact that he speaks his song lyrics makes it appear that he has no business being on this particular stage in this particular role. Liberty Cogen's amplification by sound designer Keith Bergeron is needed for her offstage singing, but it continues when she appears onstage, leading to the unfortunate situation of seeing her mouth move while hearing a voice arrive from overhead speakers. She does terrific comic work in the opening of act two, but lacks the star power and maturity the role needs.

The story of Molina and Valentin provides the throughline of a plot that marries movie magic with gritty prison life. There's seriousness in the subject matter, but the joy and musicality of the life of the imagination acts as a counterweight. "Kiss of the Spider Woman" is entertainment, and Actor's Express production lets the entertainment shine through. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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