How does an actress prepare to play a role that symbolizes death? For Liberty Cogen, the challenge is one that she has embraced without hesitation, and she couldn’t be any happier to be in Kiss of the Spider Woman at Actor’s Express.
Set in Latin America, The Tony Award® winning musical, with music written by John Kander and Fred Ebb and book by Terrence McNally, follows a gay window dresser named Molina as he copes with being imprisoned for corrupting a youth. While in prison, he fantasizes about a movie actress named Aurora and becomes haunted by one of characters, the Spider Woman. He forms a bond with his cell mate Valentin, who is part of a Marxist movement and has been tortured.
While this plot may sound more like it is from a play rather than a musical, it has resonated with audiences. The Broadway production, starring Brent Carver as Molina and Chita Rivera as the Spider Woman, ran for 904 performances, winning seven Tony Awards®, including Best Musical.
The Actor’s Express production will feature Cogen, who will be appearing in her first professional role on an Atlanta stage, and with it happening at Actor’s Express, the experience is a perfect fit for her. A graduate of Smyrna’s famed Pebblebook High School, she has appeared in the tour of Legally Blonde The Musical as well as other productions. Now, she is excited to be performing in her home town.
“I have been seeing shows at Actor’s Express my whole life. I couldn’t be happier,” Cogen mentions. “The cast is amazing. I love every single one of them. They are the funniest, smartest and most hardworking group and are willing to push themselves. It is inspiring to see as a fellow artist.”
While working with the cast is an enjoyable part of the show, she has also enjoyed getting to play multiple characters since Molina is fascinated with all of Aurora’s movies.
“I love that I get to play all different types of characters,” she says. “I am a different person each time I come out on stage. It is so exciting and so much fun.”
In addition, the show features several numbers that she enjoys performing. One song that she looks forward to performing is “Where You Are,” where she wears her favorite costume in the show.
“I am in love with the style of the number. It is a salsa-inspired song. It is one of my favorite styles of dance and getting to portray it on stage is a dream come true,” she mentions.
In addition, she gets to play a role that one her favorite actresses, Chita Rivera, originated. “She is an actress that is my idol,” Cogen explains. “It is very big shoes to fill – intimidating, but extremely exciting.”
While these things have made the show thrilling for her, it has not been without its challenges. Playing a character who represents death isn’t simple to do.
“The fact that the show portrays death as a beautiful woman, and to me the whole show has a theme of death, makes it challenging,” she comments. “It is my first time to have ever been a title character, and it has given me an opportunity to grow as a performer and make me a better artist.”
However, the Spider Woman isn’t really a dark character at all. She mentions that the personification of death as a woman also creates a deeper meaning that is somewhat comforting. While death is a very real thing, it “doesn’t have to be feared.”
It is that realization within the character of Molina that makes the show inspiring. She feels that audiences will leave the show feeling they saw something truly moving. “I have been in theater my whole life. Having the opportunity to see a show that is extremely well-written with beautiful music is exciting to me as a musical theater fan,” Cogen says. “Audiences will experience every emotion when they see this show.”
Directed by Freddie Ashley, Kiss of the Spider Woman opens Actor’s Express’ 25th Anniversary Season on August 25 and plays through October 7. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website.
By: Kenny Norton