Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Terrence McNally
Directed & Choreographed by Jessica Harling
Produced by Benevolent Theatre
At Trap Door Theatre, Chicago
Strong leads and a cast of fine singers fuel Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Mounting a musical at Trap Door Theatre’s tiny stage is a daunting task but the ambitious folks at Benevolent Theatre have achieved a worthy version of Kander & Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman – winner of 7 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score. Best Costume Design with the two male leads and the female lead winning Best actor awards. I believe Kiss of the Spider Woman is Kander & Ebb’s finest work.
The low budget production squeezed on to Trap Door’s tiny space got the main elements of Kiss right. They created the proper atmosphere of a South American prison in the 1980’s. Director Jessica Harling has cast terrific boys from leads: Parker Guidy is fantastic as the gay window dresser Molina and Darius TQ Colquitt is terrific as the revolutionary Valentin; the ensemble boys sang and performed effectively. Gary Saipe’s warden was scarey while Courtney Dane Mize and Lauren Miller sang the lover and the mother nicely. My only problem is with Jessica Kingsdale’s Aurora. She sings so softly, even in the small house, that she could often be barely heard. She seemed unsure and Aurora must be a charismatic presence fueled by Molina’s dreams.
Based on Manuel Puig’s 1983 novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman converted into a Broadway musical with book by Terrence McNally and a beautiful, haunting score by Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago, The Visit and Steel Pier) Kiss ran for 906 performances beginning in 1993.
Kiss explores the relationship between two very different men in a Latin American prison in 1980’s. Molina (Parker Guidy) is a flamboyant, super-queen (gay) window-dresser imprisoned for sexual advances toward a juvenile. His cellmate is Valentin (Darius TQ Colquitt) a political prisoner and super-macho (straight) freedom fighter. The warder (Gary Saipe) loves to torture the prisoners until they give him the information he desires. He promises Molina his release if he informs on Valentin. The show is a marvelous story of the strength of the human spirit during stress. We see that Molina is a self-described sissy, coward and weakling. Or is he really? While Valentin is the tough macho fighter. The two bond together as Molina’s escape mechanism from the horrors of prison life is his fantasizing about B-films starring Aurora.
From the opening number “Her Name is Aurora,” we meet the fantasy figure who keeps Molina distracted for his retched prison. This is a terrific old Broadway tune with a distinct Latin flavor featuring Aurora/Spider Woman, Jessica Kingsdale that allows us to experience his dreams. We hear a haunting anthem “Over The Wall” that speaks to the angst of the people against oppression. The score includes character-driven songs like “Dressing Them Up” where Molina tells about his life and “I Draw The Line” allows Valentin to introduce himself.
We hear each prisoner pine for their women, Molina his mother, Valentin his girlfriend in the enchantingly sad “Dear One,” probably the show’s finest song. With effective use of Aurora and the dancers spelling relief, the show goes from nasty torture to terrific fantasy with a varied and uniquely distinct score that grows on us. The dynamite “Where You Are” is a true classic dance show-stopped that had it challenges here as it was under rehearsed with several missteps.
Kiss of the Spider Woman needs an effective Aurora/Spider woman and Jessica Kingsdale was miscast. Darius Colquitt is outstanding as Valentin. He brings intensity, strength and a wonderful voice to make Valentin an honorable man. He nails “Marta” and “The Day After That” with power and intensity.
What ultimately makes Kiss of the Spider Woman work is the charisma need in the flamboyant Molina. He must be an excellent actor able to deliver humor and sell a song. Parker Guidry was fantastic as Molina. We love and care about him. Guidry has a wonderful voice as he shows in songs like “Mama, It’s Me,” “Anything for Him” and “She’s A Woman.” Guidry’s excellent actinf, fine stage presence makes his Molina among the best I’ve seen through the years!
Kiss of the Spider Woman is really an operetta with powerful themes that unfolds with a curious mixture of dark drama, character study with sprinkles of romance together with fine varied score complete with stylish dance. It is a love story between two men who form a unique bond allowing the gay character to be the noble hero. This is a moving, highly entertaining and poignant musical. Its beauty and it’s haunting score with smart Latin rhythms is ultimately satisfying. The use of pre-recorded music was a risky choice but since the singers deftly handled the complete full orchestra sounds, John Kander’s beautiful score gave depth to the production.
So Benevolent Theatre’s non-Equity production is an ambitious one that holds up because the cast sings and acts the show effectively doing justice to Kander and Ebb’s haunting classic. Don’t expect a major production but you’ll get an evening of fine acting and terrific singing by the two prisoners. Kiss of the Spider Woman lovers (like me) will find enough to be satisfied.
At Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland, Chicago, IL, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through July 26, 2015