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Kiss of the Spider Woman

Audiences are falling in love with "Kiss of the Spider Woman" although the web the new musical weaves is not without holes.

Molina - Brent Carver
Warden - Herndon Lackey
Valentin - Anthony Crivello
Esteban - Philip Hernandez
Marcos - Michael McCormick
Spider Woman/Aurora - Chita Rivera
Molina's mother - Merle Louise
Marta - Kirsti Carnahan

Audiences are falling in love with “Kiss of the Spider Woman” although the web the new musical weaves is not without holes.

Coming on the heels of ongoing successful tours with “Phantom of the Opera” and “Aspects of Love,” Toronto-based Live Entertainment has mounted another slick, well-produced musical accessible to audiences beyond local limits.

London’s West End is “Kiss of the Spider Woman’s” next stop, but it should likely find a home on a stage south of the Canadian border as well.

But overkill at times trivializes the real issues. In the final analysis, the overall effect of the production is underwhelming. The elaborate staging of the production is much more evocative than the strength of the music.

The musical opens with a powerful visual image of a lone figure (Brent Carver) in a jail cell at centre stage. The curtain pulls across to reveal a two-tiered jail set. The prisoner is identified as Molina, a homosexual window dresser, jailed for a sexual offense in a Latin American prison.

Molina’s cellmate, Valentin (Anthony Crivello), is brought in on the brink of death. He has been beaten and tortured while being questioned about his politically subversive activities. The spiderwoman (Chita Rivera), whose kiss symbolizes death, appears and is sent away by Molina.

The two male leads carry the weight of the production. Carver’s outstanding vocal and acting abilities brings credibility to the role of the sensitive, carefree Molina.

He escapes from the daily degradation of prison life with wild recollections of old Hollywood musicals and his favorite performer, Aurora (Chita Rivera). The stark simplicity of the jail set is brought to life with wonderfully choreographed routines and spectacular costumes.

By contrast, Valentin lives for the cause of freedom from repression. Crivello portrays the tough-minded activist with passionate force.

The woman in Valentin’s life is a love interest, Marta (Kirsti Carnahan), while Molina’s woman is his mother (Merle Louise). The four performers express their sorrow at being separated with the ballad, “Dear One.” Their voices are an intense blend of passions in what is probably the most moving song in the musical.

An interesting friendship evolves between the two men. The warden (Herndon Lackey) then coerces Molina into spying on Valentin in return for his freedom. Lackey is superb as the cold, heartless jailkeeper. Friendship turns to passion with each man motivated by his own needs. Molina is in love and Valentin wants him to deliver a message.

The spiderwoman is an ever-present fixture, reappearing as a seductive figure who promises relief from the pain of torture.

Lighting designer Howell Binkley merits special kudos for various multi-colored effects that transform the stage into a massive spider web of light.

Rivera’s character is probably the weakest part of the show. Her seemingly relentless promise that sooner or later they will feel her kiss is likely an attempt to build suspense, but it comes across as annoying repitition.

While there’s no disputing the power of the story or the high level of production values, the show is not without other problems.

Molina’s fantasies are acted out in numerous song and dance numbers. They do provide a strong contrast to the characters’ traumatic jail experiences. However , often the sequences seem interminable, detracting from the strength of the story.

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto; 876 seats; $ 53 top

Production: A Live Entertainment presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Terence McNally, based on the novel by Manuel Puig, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb. Directed by Harold Prince.

Creative: Choreography, Vincent Paterson; sets, Jerome Sirlin; costumes, Florence Klotz; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Martin Levan; musical supervision/conductor, Jeffrey Huard; orchestrations, Michael Gibson; dance music by David Krane; casting, Johnson-Liff & Zerman. Reviewed June 14, 1992.

Cast: Molina - Brent Carver
Warden - Herndon Lackey
Valentin - Anthony Crivello
Esteban - Philip Hernandez
Marcos - Michael McCormick
Spider Woman/Aurora - Chita Rivera
Molina's mother - Merle Louise
Marta - Kirsti Carnahan
With: Keith McDaniel, Robert Montano, Dan O'Grady, Raymond Rodriguez, John Norman Thomas, Joshua Finkel, Gary Schwartz, Jerry Christakos, Aurelio Padron.

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