OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' a rare web of stage greatness

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-06-18T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' a rare web of stage greatnessBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

"Kiss of the Spider Woman" ranks as one of those mysterious stage musicals deserving to capture more audience attention than it usually does.

Though some have seen the 1985 feature film starring William Hurt, Raul Julia and with Sonia Braga in the title role, it's not as likely many have seen the stage musical, which is also adapted from Manuel Puig's novel.

The Broadway production, which opened in 1993, celebrates a 20th anniversary this year. The last time a major national tour played Chicago, to my recollection, was this month in June 1995. It was a one-month run at Chicago Theater with the legendary Chita Rivera reprising her Tony Award-winning performance in the title role before injuring her leg while on stage and having to be replaced by fellow Broadway headliner Carol Lawrence.

How fortunate audiences are to have a brilliant production of "Kiss of the Spider Woman" playing for two more weeks, closing June 30 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Produced by BoHo Theater Company, it is directed with precision by Peter Marston Sullivan, with musical direction by Elizabeth Doran and beautiful and mesmerizing choreography by Linda Fortunato.

Serving an eight-year sentence in a Latin American prison for corruption of a minor (homosexuality), Molina, played with hypnotic perfection by Nathan Carroll, was once a department store window dresser who is now trapped in a prison cell in a South American country. To escape the tortures and humiliations of incarceration, he has invented a fantasy world of movie scenarios, all starring his all-time favorite actress, a vampy torch singing diva named Aurora, played here with spell-binding dark enchantment by beautiful and talented Jennifer T. Grubb.

When a Marxist revolutionary named Valentin, a solid performance by Evan Tyrone Martin, becomes Molin's cellmate, his life changes forever, as the unlikely duo form a bond of understanding with the common goal to survive their torment. Molina's life is further complicated by the lure of the prison warden, Scott Danielson aptly cast as the heavy, who wants to find out information about the prisoners' anti-government leanings.

Carroll delivers the performance of a lifetime, creating a persona delicate yet strong in dedication to those he loves, especially his mother, played by Caron Buinis and waiter Gabriel, played by Sean Knight, the latter who manages some stand-out moments of his talent in the spotlight.

"Kiss of the Spider Woman" won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score, with book by Terrence McNally, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Eb, when it debuted on Broadway. This Chicago presentation by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. is a chance to see the stage story that garnered such deserved acclaim two decades ago. The "Gimme Love" musical number is a favorite showcase, that doesn't miss a beat.

Running 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, it features a fantastic ensemble of singers and dancers including Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Tommy Rivera-Vega, Glenn M. Snellgrose II, Daniel Spagnuolo and Neil Stratman. Patrick Ham's set design is imaginative and inventive. Tickets are $18 to $17 at theaterwit.org or (773) 975-8150.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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