BWW Review: READING: KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN at Alhambra Theater
Bobino, November 26.
More than seven years after his first public reading at the now sadly gone 20ème Theater in Paris, the French adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman is still struggling to find a French producer despite the success it met with in the profession at the time and again at subsequent readings at the Alhambra Theater and last week at Bobino Theater. With the new French version of Chicago now successfully playing at Mogador Theater, it might be the right time to discover this underrated and too rarely revived masterpiece of Kander and Ebb, best known as the creator of Cabaret, Chicago and the title song of the movie New York, New York.
Based upon the novel by Manuel Puig, and turned into a movie in 1984, Kiss of the Spider Woman was from the start seen as an odd choice for a musical. It took over three years to reach Broadway after its first workshop at Purchase in 1999, followed by a production in Toronto, which met with only moderate success when transferred to London in 1992 despite the presence of the great Chita Rivera in the part of Aurora.
The West End didn't seem ready for such a dark musical involving prison, torture, death and an ill-fated love affair between a pedophile window dresser and a straight revolutionary in an unnamed South American country. It took the talent of book writer Terrence McNally to turn Kiss of the Spider Woman into a huge hit on Broadway in may 1993, running for over two years and winning 7 Tony Awards, including best actress for Chita Rivera, her big comeback after a major accident before the equally excellent Vanessa Williams took over. Estelle Daniere, the very last meneuse de revue of the actual Follies Bergères and last seen in her one-woman show Passage en Revue, possesses the necessary ghost-like charisma and glamour to walk in the footsteps of those giants. Perhaps her moving singing voice needs to be more amplified to do justice to the title song, but I'm sure it will in the fully stage production.
But stealing the show are the two male protagonists, Jaques Verzier (last seen in Berlin Kabaret), spellbinding as Molina, and Fabian Richard (last seen in Comedien), equally impressive as a both strong and vulnerable Valentin, the revolutionary. Together with Estelle and Marion Piété, playing Valentin's girlfriend, they are the cream of the crop of Parisian musical theater and no strangers to the work of Kander and Ebb, since they both have played the MC in Cabaret!
Stéphane Laporte did an excellent job in adapting McNally's book, injecting even more humour to lighten the piece, and Jean-Luc Revol already did a wonderful job directing the piece with the help of choreography Armel Ferron, giving us fully staged "Morphine Tango" with a sensual chorus of handsome prisoners, all of them excellent dancers with, among them, Grégory Garell, currently playing Jack in the Into the Woods tour.
This was much more than a reading and this musical is so rich and strong that it doesn't even need all the scenery and costumes. Of course, those will make the piece less dark and more accessible to the general audience, but the well-deserved standing ovation at the end shows that this Kissof the Spider Woman really has a future in Paris, which might even help put this neglected masterpiece back on the map.