Get captivated by 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' at Genesius Theatre in Reading
By Cheryl Thornburg
The opening scene of Genesius Theatre’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” is undoubtedly the most dramatic I have seen in my 25 years of reviewing theater. With powerful music, strobe lights and chaotic staging, it set the tone for what was to come – a dynamic musical with dark undertones that captured and held my attention from beginning to end.
The show was new to me, but knowing that it was written and composed by John Kander & Fred Ebb, the team that created “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” I was hopeful for an energetic and entertaining afternoon, and I was not disappointed.
“Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” however, is not like its more famous brethren. Its setting and themes are very dark and complicated. It tells the story of two men held captive in an Argentinian prison during the time that has become known as the “Dirty War” when thousands of citizens “disappeared.”
The men are a study in contrasts, Molina, a gay window dresser, who has been imprisoned for allegedly making sexual advances to a young boy and Valentin, an intense young revolutionary, whom the prison warden is trying to force to give up his comrades.
The storyline is also full of contrasts, with scenes of torture and violence juxtaposed with the upbeat fantasy world of Molina who is obsessed with an actress named Aurora whose movies include, “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
Irving Gonzalez is mesmerizing as the flamboyant, seemingly self-absorbed Molina, whose fantasy world helps him drown out his dismal reality. His flair for comedy and exquisite vocals make him the perfect choice to play Molina. He particularly shines in “Dear One,” with his Mother, Marta and Valentine; in “Mama, It’s Me” and “Only in the Movies,” the rousing finale.
Jon Browning is intense and at times, explosive, as the idealistic Valentin, who endures all sorts of torture from the prison guards, but remains true to his cause. His vocals are strong throughout, but his performance in the stirring “The Day After That” in the second act is powerful, memorable theater – the kind that makes the hair on your arm stand up when you remember it. The entire cast delivers this revolutionary anthem with such passion, it will remind you much more of “Le Miz” than “Cabaret.”
Weaving her spell as the Spider Woman and various other roles as the actress, Aurora, is Jennifer Parker Scott. With some fabulous costumes and spidery props, Scott is convincing as the deadly seductress, particularly in the final act when she sings, “The Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
Some of Berks County’s best vocalists add their talents to this production, including Anita Lewis as Molina’s mother and Meegan Gagnon as Marta, who deliver haunting interpretations in “Dear One.” Lewis’ “You Could Never Shame Me” and Gagnon’s “I Do Miracles,” a duet with Scott, are highpoints of the show. Another standout is “Gabriel’s Letter” delivered with an exquisite tenor by Bo Irwin.
Carl Wolfe is chilling as the ruthless warden who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. By persuading Molina to spy on his cellmate, he sets everyone on a path that ultimately leads to the evolution of both prisoners.
Some of the most vivid scenes involve the entire cast. “Over the Wall,” which is reprised twice, features powerful harmonies, poignant vignettes, and complex staging and choreography.
Choreographer Michael Roman also had to switch gears for the fantasy scenes with jazzy scores that required showgirl numbers reminiscent of other Kander and Erb shows.
The cast includes Randy Gerber, Joey Lovello, Emily Madden, Sara Moyer, Becca Snyder, Jessica Reber, Kaitlyn Reber, Peter Bourey, Briana Christie, Alex Krick, Eli Noll, and Michael Roman.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman” is directed by L J Fecho and music directed by Kevin Cooper. With its superlative cast and orchestra, spectacular lighting and staging, the show is the complete package and worth the trip to downtown Reading.
The show continues Oct. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m., Oct. 11, 12, at 8 p.m., and Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for Wednesday and Thursday performances and $25 ($20 for seniors) for other performances. To purchase tickets with all major credit cards visit the website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call 610-373-9500. Credit card fees apply. Tickets are also available at the door.
For more information, contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking aside of the theater (limited spaces available). This production is rated PG for adult situations and language. Genesius Theatre is located at 10th & Walnut streets in Reading.