Kiss of the Spider Woman

Book by Terrence McNallyboho theatre ensemble

(Based on the novel by Manuel Puig)

Music by John Kander

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Directed by Peter Marston Sullivan

Musical Direction by Elizabeth Doran

Choreographer Linda Fortunato

Produced by BoHo Theatre Ensemble

At Theater Wit, Chicago

A star is born in a magnificent production of Kander and Ebb’s operetta

From concept to casting, Peter Marston Sullivan’s intimate staging and nimble casting gives a powerful and sad tone to the Kander and Ebb operetta. This wonderfully sung and powerfully acted musical is a major achievement that I believe is one of the finest shows ever by BoHo Theatre Ensemble.

boho theatre ensemble

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 and Steel Pier) that 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 (Nathan Carroll) is a flamboyant, super-queen (gay) window-dresser imprisoned for sexual advances toward a juvenile. His cellmate is Valentin (Evan Tyrone Martin) a political prisoner and super-macho (straight) freedom fighter. The warder (Scott Danielson) 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 the macho 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.

boho theatre ensemble

 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 (Jennifer T. Grubb) 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 was creatively choreographed and staged by Linda Fortunato. The skilled boy dancers utilized every inch of the runway stage at Theater Wit.

boho theatre ensemble

 Kiss of the Spider Woman must have an effective Aurora/Spider woman and Jennifer T. Grubb has what it takes  in her tunes filled with sensuality and style. Evan Tyrone Martin  presents Valentin as an intensely troubled prisoner. He brings strength, determination and a terrific  tenor voice to make Valentin an honorable man. Martin nails “Marta” and “The Day After That” with sincerity.  Evan Tyrone Martin is emerging as a fine leading man. here he combines his deft acting skills with his rich voice.

boho theatre ensemble

 What makes Kiss of the Spider Woman so empathetic is the boyish charm from the flamboyant Molina. He must be an excellent actor able to deliver humor and sell his songs effortlessly.  Young Nathan Carroll, in his first major staring role, gave a tour de force performance. Carroll is so lovable, so astute in his comic timing his performance anchors the show.   He demonstrates a marvelous vocal range.  In songs like “Mama, It’s Me,” “Anything for Him” and “She’s A Woman,” Carroll shows off  his triple threat skills. He charms us and he exudes a quiet strength of personality that is heartfelt and ever so honest. Nathan Carroll is a talent whose time has come. Bravo! The cast features some terrific singing from Caron Buinis as Molina’s Mother, from Jessica Kingsdale as Marta and from Sean Knight as Gabriel and John Gurdian as Marcos. Kudos to music director Elizabeth Doran for making John Kander’s Latin-infused score sound for wonderful.

 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 workable dances. 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 haunting score are ultimately satisfying.  If You’ve never seen Kiss, get to Theater Wit to experience an intimate and powerful production of one of the most underrated works of our time.. Those of us who know the show were impressed with the production values of BoHo’s production. They should be proud of this most worthy show! Don’t miss this gem.

 Highly Recommended

 Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: June 2 , 2013

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Kiss of the Spider Woman page at theatreinchicago.com

At Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL,  call 773-975-8150, www.bohotheatre.com, tickets $25 – $27, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm,  Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through June 30, 2013