'Kiss of the Spider Woman' at Signature

So I'm a musical theatre geek from way back. I danced around my living room to the score of Jesus Christ Superstar while wearing my favorite ballet costumes and was taken to see a local production of Evita at a tender young age with the disclaimer that Eva wasn't a very Nice Girl. Rodgers and Hammerstein scores were practically ingrained on my genetic structure and by the time an enterprising teacher did a unit on musical theatre in the fourth grade, I was hooked for life. Kander and Ebb snuck in around middle school when my big sister came home from summer theatre camp with a copy of the OBCs of Cabaret and Chicago, which I promptly 'borrowed' for a period of several years. (Sorry, Sister) After watching a fantastic PBS documentary on K&E (ha! the power of the internet reveals that it was likely The Music of Kander and Ebb: Razzle Dazzle) that broadened my knowledge of their work, I sought out a few more cast recordings, among which was Kiss of the Spiderwoman (yes, it only took me a hundred odd words to reach the BEGINNING of my point, is there a problem?).

The special had featured clips of the ever-brilliant Chita Rivera as Aurora dancing her way through 'Where You Are' in pants of immaculate white and Brent Carver (equally brilliant) dazzling in 'Dressing Them Up.' If they showed anything else, I don't remember- those were the numbers that stuck and were probably the tracks I skipped ahead to on my new CD. The problem with Kiss was that... well, nothing else stuck. Nothing was half so memorable as those two tracks, except for a random few moments in the midst of a lot of blah. But I proceeded to read the original Manuel Puig novel and sought out a battered VHS of the film on eBay and fell into a tortured romance with the story, if not the musical it spawned. A pity, but I didn't dwell. I'm resilient like that.

SO. (finally!, the people cry) Skip ahead to the moment I found out Signature's 07-08 season and my excitement over the Kander and Ebb shindig they'd be orchestrating, including a mounting of Kiss. FINALLY (I cried, myself). Here was my chance to take a look at the show BEYOND the score, to see how the whole stacked up rather than pieces in isolation. I bought my ticket for a Saturday matinee and settled into a front row seat with anticipation in my heart and a tingling in my extremities. (also, a blister on my heel, but that's neither here nor there)

One of the things I love about this story is the question that both men, Valentin and Molina, have no choice but to face- How do you survive in this sort of prison, and how can you even define that survival? Who would you become in order to escape it? How will it change you? What are the things you hold on to, and what do you let go?

I felt like I was in good hands from the moment the show began- the opening bars are harsh, the ensemble sings brutally (and frequently jumps into EAR SPLITTING rounds of banging on the metal prison apparatus- it's DAMN effective, but be warned), and we see Molina sitting alone in his cell, the pain he takes from his surroundings etched starkly on his face. It's all there in that one image- a man who fills his life with beautiful things, people, and stories, trapped in a living hell of the antithesis of everything he cherishes. Hunter Foster has a challenge in this role- it's undeniable that the character is something of a caricature, written in broad strokes without much subtlety for vast chunks of Play. I think it's a challenge he largely rises to and by the final fifteen minutes, he's broken your heart and forcing you to smile and he's breathtaking.

Will Chase as Valentin has the SAME hurdle- he's a bundle of clich├ęs, only instead of playing a window dresser, he's a fiery political prisoner, joy!- and rises to the occasion. He has a GLORIOUS voice and the score gives him the opportunity to use it- sitting in the front row, only a few feet away from those vocal chords was Something Else. He's got the requisite fire and passion and the audience was hanging onto his every word and note. And I will take one more chance to say THAT VOICE and then I will move on. ;)

Natascia Diaz is the final player in the triangle, taking on the titular role as Aurora, screen goddess of Molina's fantasies. She is, in a word, KICKASS. Just... GUH. Seductive, sensual, gorgeous- she owns EVERY number. I was mesmerized. She gets saddled with several very run of the mill numbers that are meant to convey for the audience Molina's enraptured descriptions of his beloved movies and hers is a clear case of a performer rising above the material. She's every inch the star that she's meant to portray. Rock on, Natascia Diaz. ROCK ON.

Now, it's time to speak to the other ROCK STARS of this production- the ensemble. They may forget to put on a shirt for 75% of the time, but no one was complaining during MY matinee, lemme tell YOU. There's a lot more to these guys than the gleaming and muscled torsos on display- they sang and danced their cotton pickin' HEARTS out. Their energy was extraordinary and I was gobsmacked by their awesomeness. And TORSOS.

This is a fantastic production. I don't think I was wrong to be unimpressed by the score back in my wayward youth, but this Kiss has proven to me that the right people working with so-so material can still put together a show that can leave you reeling. Signature has assembled the right cast and the right creative team and the results had me itching to come back for a second evening and see it all again.

Four and a half stars from me. Signature does musicals RIGHT, people- don't miss out.


Anonymous said…
Well written article.

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