Signature's Kiss of the Spider Woman

While watching Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman at Signature Theatre, I often felt like I was watching two different musicals. Molina (Hunter Foster) is a gay window dresser serving time in a Latin American prison for sexual deviancy. Molina survives by retreating to the world within his head, reliving movie scenes starring a glamorous diva, Aurora (Natascia Diaz). The character of Molina himself belongs in this world of dancing and singing as he makes graceful, dramatic gestures, and sashays around the stage. The other musical is the musical of reality. This musical is occupied by Valentin (Will Chase), a dark, brooding Marxist revolutionary and Molina’s cellmate. The warden of the prison has put Valentin in Molina’s cell with the hope of convincing Molina to report the names of Valentin’s comrades. Molina and Valentin’s worlds collide as they get to know one another and a complex relationship develops.

These two disparate parts never truly synthesized into a whole for me. This is my first experience with the musical, so I am unable to say whether this is the fault of the material or the production. As a result, this was a night at the theatre that I didn’t really take anything away from. I was still really pleased to expand my Kander and Ebb experience. I like the fact that they aren't afraid to write dark musicals, and the score for Kiss of the Spider Woman is quite good, with songs like "Dear One" and "Where You Are."

The design elements are wonderful. Adam Koch fills the stage with metal bars, staircases, and cages, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. Adding to this atmosphere is the lighting of Chris Lee, who manages to create a dark and sinister scene without harming the actor’s visibility.

Natascia Diaz is good as Aurora, but can’t escape the fact that the part screams Chita Rivera. Diaz’s voice isn’t quite as strong as the score requires, but she shines in her dance and movement.

Hunter Foster successfully avoids the trap of stereotyping Molina. His characterization is appropriately flamboyant and effeminate without ever becoming annoying. There is always a sense of the character’s deep emotional life. But though Foster inhabits Molina’s skin fully he suddenly seems uncomfortable when dancing with Diaz in the final cheery number, “Only in the Movies.”

This production belongs to Will Chase. He has an intense charisma and power that fills the stage regardless of whether he is speaking or not. He also has the best voice by far of the three leads, and his beautiful tone makes his number “The Day After That” the musical highlight of the evening.

Energetic, percussive choreography makes numbers such as “Over the Wall” memorable as well. The final scenes in the prison are very well acted by Chase and Foster, who manage to play so many levels as their motives come into conflict with their emotions.

3 stars
Through April 20th.


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