BWW Reviews: A Sloppy KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN Opens at Triangle Productions
Every theater group worth its salt tries to stretch itself now and then. If you only perform shows within your comfort zone - and your audience's comfort zone - you run the risk of becoming dull, repetitive, and bland. I salute any theater that tries to push itself in new creative directions. However, if you're going to do those risky shows, especially those with very challenging roles, you need to have the right people to lead the way.
Kiss of the Spider Woman, for those who don't know, is a musical based on a novel (also a well-known film) about two cellmates in a South American prison. Valentin (Nicholas Rodriguez) is a macho revolutionary who's run afoul of the government, while Molina (Bobby Ryan) is an effeminate window dresser who's been jailed for corrupting a teenage boy. Molina passes the time in the cell by remembering the stories of his favorite movies, all musicals staring Aurora (Margie Boule), which irritates Valentin. Gradually they grow closer, each of them using the other for his own purposes, but a genuine affection also develops between them.
The musical was adapted by Terrence McNally from Manuel Puig's novel, and has music by John Kander and lyrics by the late Fred Ebb. It's a combination of an intense prison drama (particularly in the second act) and a big, splashy musical, and it requires very specific talents in the three main roles, backed by a large ensemble to play prisoners, guards, dancers, and various figures in the flashbacks and fantasies that interrupt the story. It's not Kander and Ebb's finest work, lacking the zip of Chicago and Cabaret, but there are some fine melodies and rousing dance numbers.
Triangle Productions has the talent to put on fine musicals. Their Avenue Q was a highlight just a couple of months ago. But Kiss of the Spider Woman is a complex shpow, and it just doesn't work with a cast of eight. Beyond the three leads and an actor playing a prison warden (who functions somewhat like the Emcee in Cabaret), the other four cast members have to play all the prisoners, all the guards, the dancers in Aurora's big numbers, and a variety of other characters as well. They jump in and out of costumes and change characters so fast that it sometimes gets laughs from the audience. And while this cast is quite talented, some of them just don't fit the roles they've been assigned.
The key role is Aurora, a sensual actress who has to be seductive and hypnotic. She's a fantasy figure for Molina, and she has to give off the aura of a great old-time movie siren; think Rita Hayworth or Elizabeth Taylor. Margie Boule is a fine singer and a talented actress, and she does a wonderful job doubling in the small role of Molina's sympathetic mother, but sensual and alluring are not adjectives that come to mind for her. She reminded me of Angela Lansubry, when what's called for is something closer to Angelina Jolie.
Likewise, Bobby Ryan as Molina is just too low-key for what is a very theatrical role. Molina is the ultimate drama queen, wrapped up in his own story, forever overdramatizing everything, and Ryan isn't wild enough to make the leap. In the second half of the show, when Molina starts to develop a conscience, we just aren't invested in the character enough to care. In addition, Ryan's singing voice isn't up to the big ballads that Molina has to sing.
Boule and Ryan both suffer next to Nicholas Rodriguez, who makes a wonderfully forceful Valentin. Rodriguez is believable as an activist and a tough prisoner, and he has the passionate singing voice required for the score. He's brave enough to be nude on stage when the script calls for it. He can't quite pull off Valentin's change of attitude toward Molina, but then the script doesn't give him much help.
In the ensemble, Crystal Munoz and Alexander Salazar are excellent in their varied roles, both singing well and showing off a variety of voices and dance moves, and they're convincing at all times. Gabriel Mikalson and Matthew Brown are less well suited; both have shown talent in other roles at Triangle Productions, but neither is believable as a prison guard or a hardened criminal. Likewise, Ron Harman is just too likable to play the sadistic warden.