Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Scottsdale Musical Theater Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of the Michael Cavanaugh and Kristin Chenoweth concerts, Sweeney Todd, When You Wish, and Me and My Girl

Robert Allocca, Michael Schauble, Addam Donada,
and Matt Newhard

Photo by Jessica Cole
It's hard to believe that a musical that won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and that is based on a book that also spawned an Oscar winning film, is rarely produced in the Phoenix area. It's fortunate then that Scottsdale Musical Theater Company is mounting a week long run of Kiss of the Spider Woman. While there are controversial themes and adult situations in the show, so it's understandable why some companies may shy away from presenting it, there is also much to admire in the superb book by Terrence McNally and the lush score by John Kander and Fred Ebb. SMTC's production, while it has a couple of downsides, features clear and concise direction and is led by stellar performances by Michael Schauble and Matthew Newhard. Those performances alone make this a must see production.

Based on Argentine writer Manuel Puig's novel, which he also adapted into a play, the musical focuses on two men who share a cell in a Latin American prison. Molina is an effeminate window dresser for a large department store who has been incarcerated on a trumped up charge for corruption of a minor, and Valentin is a political activist associated with a revolutionary group who is trying to overthrow the government. It seems the two couldn't be more unalike, but together they find a common bond against their oppressors and realize that they are more alike than they originally thought.

Molina's love of films and his recollections of them are what help both men forget where they are. Aurora is the actress who starred in the big movie musical films that Molina constantly speaks about. Aurora is central to the action, especially in the role of "the spider woman," who is perceived as "death" to Molina and is the only character Aurora played that frightens him. With themes of homosexuality, political uprising, and the constant torture that happens in prison, Kiss of the Spider Woman would seem very controversial, though those themes are what make the musical into something greater than your usual musical comedy.

As Molina, Michael Schauble is superb. While at first he makes Molina come across as a silly, flippant man, Schauble's adept portrayal makes you quickly realize that Molina actually redefines masculinity and that he takes many chances for the people he loves in his life. It's a rich performance full of nuance, multiple layers, and refined gestures, without Schauble turning it into caricature. Mathew Newhard is just as good as Valentin, a man who is fighting for much more than just the revolution he constantly speaks of. The two are exceptional in their roles and do wonderful work in the many scenes they have together. They also both deliver power house vocal performances with their singing voices pure and strong. Newhard's stellar performance of the show's big anthem, "The Day After That," is full of intensity, strength and resilience. Both actors make these characters people that you care about.

Lindsay Kalby is fine as Aurora. She evokes some of the exotic allure that the part requires but her singing isn't quite up to the level of Schauble and Newhard. She has a nice connection with Schauble, which is important since Aurora evokes the "life" and willpower that makes Molina, and eventually Valentin, aspire to greater causes. While she has enough charisma for the part, she doesn't really instill Aurora with the heightened sexuality, sense of seduction, and old Hollywood glamour that I believe is required for the role.

In the supporting cast, Janis Webb is very good as Molina's mother, evoking a deep sense of compassion for her son. Thom Ratke's portrayal of the prison warden is full of fear while Addam Donada and Danielle Mendelson bring a lovely tenderness to the parts of Gabriel and Marta, the two people whom Molina and Valentin love. While the male ensemble is quite good, most of the female ensemble don't seem to have quite captured the essence or feel of the time period, and they have some difficulty maneuvering even the most basic of Hillary Conrad's choreography.

Hector Coris' skillful direction swiftly moves between scenes of torture and moments of terrific fantasy with his and David Hock's musical staging quite effective in incorporating the film scenes directly into the cell that Molina and Valentin share. He also uses the two side balcony platforms and the sides of the space to stage scenes in order to keep the pace of the show moving along without interruption. Coris has done very good character work with all of his actors to ensure that they make the most of their parts, with special focus on the excellent performances of the leads.

Curtis Moeller's music supervision achieves some lush sounds, including getting lovely harmonies from Schauble, Newhard, Webb, and Mendelson in the quartet "Dear One" and also a rich sound in the many numbers that feature the strong male ensemble. Tylar Talkington's scenic design works very well for the small space with just two moving set pieces for the cell and some permanent back and side flats to portray the various locations. Her lighting design is very good, with the suggestion of shadows and prison bars and a fantastic spider web effect. Costume designs by Emily Simzyk are appropriately dark and dingy for the prison uniforms with hints of glamour for the film sequences.

Kiss of the Spider Woman is a very effective musical that uses elements of fantasy and some comical moments to help counter or comment on the horrible situation these men are in without detracting from the sensitive, dramatic story at the core. It is also a challenging musical with somewhat controversial themes but when done right it is a show that can grab an audience and even move them to tears. Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's production is quite good and features exceptional work from the two male leads who deliver rich, moving portrayals.

The Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's production of Kiss of the Spider Woman runs through May 29th, 2016, with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. You can get information and tickets by visiting Tickets can also be ordered by calling 602-909-4215

Directed and Choreographed by Hector Coris
Choreography by Hillary Conrad
Musical Staging by David Hock
Musical Supervision by Curtis Moeller
Musical Direction by Brent C. Mauldin and Josh Hontz
Orchestra Conducted by Kevin Hayward
Scenic and Lighting Design by Tylar Talkington
Costume Design by Emily Simzyk
Sound Design by Josh Hontz

Michael Schauble: Molina
Matt Newhard: Valentin
Lindsay Kalby: Aurora
Addam Donada: Gabriel
Janis Webb: Mama
Danielle Mendelson: Marta
Thom Ratke: Warden
Todd Corbeil: Esteban
Matt Wiederholdt: Marcos
Ensemble: Robert Allocca, Eric Guy, Devra Hock, Tina Khalil, Zoe Skorey, Corinne Tachuk, Leeann Tegl

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