BWW Review: Audience Not Left Hanging in Short North Stage's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN

Spiders and Broadway musicals don't always work well with each other. Witness the mixed fortunes of SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE NIGHT. However, Short North Stage's epic production of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN: THE MUSICAL is one of the "can't miss" musicals in the Columbus' fall season. Director Michael Licata's artistic touches, dynamic performances by Eli Brickey, Scott Hunt, Joe Joseph and a lavish stage design by Jason Bolen bring together a dynamic theatre experience.
The show made its central Ohio debut Nov. 3 and runs through Nov. 20 at the Garden Theatre (1187 North High Street in downtown Columbus).
Based on the Manuel Puig novel and the 1985 movie starring Raul Julia and William Hurt, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN is set in an Argentine prison. Molina (Hunt), a homosexual window dresser who has been jailed for having sex with a minor, is forced to share his cell with Valentin (Joseph), a Marxist revolutionary. Molina tries to comfort the badly beaten Valentin with his tales of Aurora (Brickey), a movie actress who has become Molina's escape from the horrors of prison life. Molina knows all of the movies by heart but is terrified of one - The Kiss of the Spider Woman, in which anyone Aurora's character kisses immediately dies.
Initially, Valentin is repulsed by the effeminate Molina and draws a psychological line right down the middle of the prison cell. As long as Molina stays keeps his movie posters and his world on his side of the cell, Valentin promises the two will get along fine.
The manipulative prison warden (brilliantly portrayed by Todd Covert) and the sadistic guards (Alex Armesto and Amari Ingram) want to use Molina to extract information from Valentin and use the promise of freedom to coerce the prisoner to serve as a spy. Molina pretends to go along with the ploy but eats a poisoned meal intended for Valentin. Later, after the guards successfully poison Valentin, Molina nurses his cellmate back to health. An uneasy friendship develops between the two until the warden tells Molina his mother is dying and the only way he will be released is if he gets the names of Valentin's cohorts.
Hunt, who directed Short North Stage's productions of THE GREAT ONE and SUNSET BOULEVARD, shows off his acting and singing skills, especially in songs like "Bluebloods" and "She's a Woman." His sensitive performance is complemented by Joseph's soaring tenor. Joseph makes Valentin's reluctance to accept Molina initially and the later development of the friendship and romance between the two seem more than just believable.
Tying the show together is Brickey's acrobatic turn as "Aurora" and "The Spider Woman." From the prologue, Brickey descends from the rafters on silks and glides on to the stage. Brickey's delivery of songs like "Come," "Visit" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" are both haunting and tantalizing as is the rest of the show.
As is the case with most of the Short North productions, the show features a strong supporting cast, led by Linda Kinnison Roth (Molina's mother), Danielle Grays (Valentin's girlfriend Marta), and James Schoppe (Gabriel). Kevin Ferguson, Edgar Lopez, Patrick Carmichael, Nick Hardin and Luke Stewart play a range of characters that makes the cast seem much larger than it actually is.
The troupe brings the comedic and dark touches of the lyrics of John Kander and Fred Ebbs (CHICAGO and CABARET). The show makes subtle winks at other musicals like EVITA and SUNSET BOULEVARD. Even the Village People make a cameo appearance in the "Morphine Tango."
While the show features big, Broadway dance numbers, its ending feels real, raw and gut wrenching. A show like KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN only comes around so often, so make sure you catch it.
KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN will be performed 8 p.m. Nov. 10-12 and Nov. 17-19 with 3 p.m. matinees on Nov. 13 and 20. Call 614-725-4042 for information.

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