Two prisoners in a South America hell hole — one flamboyantly gay, one angry, political and straight — who are tortured and betrayed on their way to ignoble ends might not sound like the stuff of musical theater, but then again, who thought a cabaret on the eve of World War II and murderesses clamoring for press coverage in Chicago would make for good musicals either? But that’s what Kander & Ebb do: Make brightly scored musicals out of dark materials. In the case of Kiss of the Spider Woman, though — now onstage at the Kalita — they don’t manage any catchy tunes on the level of “All That Jazz” or “Wilkommen.” And they have to cope with a heavy-handed script from Terrence McNally.
What they do get, though, is an opportunity to show audiences what an American opera would look like if written for Broadway. Because that’s what Spider Woman is: ravishing, melodramatic excess.That’s never more apparent than on the Act 1 quartet “Dear One,” which uses counterpunctual melody lines effectively. And if there’s a contemporary aria that can be delivered with more drama and musical bravery than Linda Leonard’s rendition of the title song, I’d like to hear it.
Leonard — playing Aurora, the fantasy character who the gay prisoner Molina (Mikey Abrams) conjures in order to coax information out of his cellmate Valentin (John Campione) — is a force of nature in the production, underserved by Bruce Coleman’s direction (which doesn’t render the imagined worlds in which Aurora lives with enough contrast to the prison). But the message of the peculiar interplay between art, politics and love — and the pointless necessity of all three (the title is a euphemism for death, for crying out loud!) — makes for one of the more thoughtful musicals of the summer.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Aug. 18. UptownPlayers.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2013.