With Kiss of the Spider Woman, Actor’s Express starts its 25th Anniversary Season with a bang. One of the theater’s strongest productions in recent history, the musical showcases some of Atlanta’s best musical theater talent both onstage and off.
The musical, with music written by John Kander and Fred Ebb and book by Terrence McNally, takes place in a Latin American prison where a gay window dresser, Molina (Craig Waldrip), is being held on charges of corrupting a minor. To cope with his captivity, he fantasizes and somewhat lives vicariously through movies of his beloved actress, Aurora (Liberty Cogen). One of her roles, the Spider Woman, haunts Molina because she represents death. When he receives a new cell mate, a revolutionary named Valentin (Bryant Smith), he faces his changing circumstances on his own terms.
Based on the post-modern novel El Beso de la Mujer Araña by Manuel Puig, the Tony Award® winning musical presents the story of the two prisoners with musical fantasies that retell scenes from Aurora’s movies. The music is beautifully moving, but some of the lyrics, scenes and dialogue seem contrived and out of place. The closing scene’s tone, in particular, seems far removed from the remainder of the show.
The Actor’s Express production, however, overcomes any weakness in the script, creating a stunning presentation. Under the direction of Freddie Ashley and the musical direction of Seth Davis, the cast excels as actors and vocalists. With costumes by Elizabeth Rasmusson, choreography by Ricardo Aponte, lighting by Joseph P. Monaghan III, and set by Phillip Male, the visuals of the production add to its strength.
Cogen’s Auora and Spider Woman is equally vivacious and mysterious. Vocally, she excels and she executes Aponte’s choreography flawlessly. In a role that demands a diva, she carries herself well and gives a captivating performance, but the persona doesn’t always demand the attention it should.
As Molina, Waldrip gives ones of his best performances to date. In a role that could easily go over-the-top, he displays an incredibly poised and believable character. One of the highlights of his performance is the depth of emotion he shows during the sequences with Aurora, especially when he mimics her movements. Vocally, he is also at the top of his game. Providing the perfect balance to Waldrip’s flamboyance, Smith’s Valentin is reserved and subtle. His tenor voice fits well with the music and the emotions of the songs flow effortlessly.
An award-worthy production, Kiss of the Spider Woman plays at Actor’s Express through October 7. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website or call 404-607-SHOW (7469).
– Kenny Norton