Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Kiss of the Spider Woman: The Musical"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


book by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by Manuel Puig
music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb
directed by Paul Daigneault
choreographed by David Connolly
musical direction by Paul S. Katz

Molina … John King
Warden … Sean McGuirk
Valentin … Brendan McNab
Esteban … Bill Molnar
Marcos … Andy Miramontes
Spider Woman; Aurora … Christine A. Maglione
Aurora’s Men; Prisoners: Brad Bass; Travis Morin; Anthony Napoletano; Corbitt Williams
Molina’s Mother … Beth Gotha
Marta … Veronica Kuhn
Escaping Prisoner … Logan Benedict
Religious Fanatic; Prisoner … John Porcaro
Amnesty International Observor; Prisoner Emilio … Christopher Chew
Prisoner Fuentes … Paul Giragos
Gabriel; Prisoner … Brad Bass
Window Dress at Montoya’s; Prisoner … Will McGarrahan


Conductor; Keyboards … Paul S. Katz
Associate Conductor … José Delgado
1st and 2nd Trumpet … Paul Perfetti; Steve Banzaert; Rick Hammett; Mark Sanchez
Trombone … James Monaghan
Reeds … Louis Toth; Tay Taranto
Keyboard II … David McGrory
Bass … Jonathan Dimond
Drums; Percussion … Mike Sartini

Those who admire Manuel Puig’s novel KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN may think otherwise of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN: THE MUSICAL. Mr. Puig’s celebrated tale is about the evolving relationship between two men in a Brazilian prison --- Molina, a window dresser arrested for sexual assault, and Valentin, a political activist being held for interrogation. Molina adores old movies and tells various plots to Valentin as diversions from their harsh prison life; he soon finds himself cast as the lead in his own melodrama, torn between his growing love for Valentin and his chance at being paroled in exchange for betraying his cellmate’s confidences --- the novel ends in death and transcendence, each man having influenced the other for the better.

The musical version is a travesty, regardless of its numerous awards. Librettist Terrence McNally has reduced the two men to a noble queen and a brutish hunk and added assorted characters including the celluloid diva Aurora who doubles as a figure of Death (the Spider Woman) and John Kander and Fred Ebb have contributed a stillborn score but equal blame must rest on the original director Harold Prince who, thanks to his designers and technicians, can slip mediocre material past his audiences (when in doubt, dazzle ‘em). I gather that Mr. Prince & Company were drawn to SPIDER WOMAN’s musical possibilities, i.e. Molina goes into a movie-trance and a production number unfolds but this concept works against the novel which is written entirely in dialogue as if the reader is eavesdropping --- Molina and Valentin develop not only through what they say but in the way they say it; to cut away from Molina’s monologues to Aurora and her chorus boys is a reduction of both his characterization and his glowing faith in the magic of the movies. The 1985 film adaptation kept the movie flashbacks separate from the prison world; here, everybody sings and fantasy and reality are one (even Valentin’s blood and diarrhea now seem like song cues) --- with all the piling up of numbers, the men’s relationship seems secondary. That the original Broadway production ran for so long can be accredited to Chita Rivera’s triumphant comeback as Aurora (later succeeded, with similar acclaim, by Vanessa Williams), to Mr. Prince’s stage machinery and to audiences applauding Molina as a positive gay icon (ironically, Mr. Prince did not receive the Tony for his Harold Prince show).

SpeakEasy’s production strips everything down with the emphasis once again on Mr. Puig’s plot --- the problem is, Mr. Prince & Company have left little to dramatize which makes for a different kind of emptiness and none of the leads have strong enough presences to pull off this bare-bones approach. John King, a delightful song-and-dance fellow, elsewhere, portrays Molina as a wholesome American girly-boy next door and Brendan McNab’s Valentin is positively bestial (the novel’s Valentin is a journalist who keeps up with his political reading) --- only in his holding out a hand to Mr. King for a sudden night of lovemaking does Mr. McNab turn into a gentle, seductive creature; Christine A. Maglione’s Aurora is tightly coiled and unalluring --- hers is not the dancing of which film dreams are made. It was nice to see Mary Gotha as a warm, tremulous Mother after I last saw her as a combative little badger for the Súgán Theatre and Veronica Kuhn has toned down her over-the-top exuberance for the cameo role of Marta and now stands before you as a pretty young performer deserving better things as did Mr. Puig who did not live to see THE MUSICAL but is probably spinning, somewhere.

"Kiss of the Spider Woman: The Musical" (4 November - 3 December)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide