Sunday, September 10, 2017

“Kiss Of The Spider Woman” Another Winner For Welk Resort Theatre

Exceeding all expectations and shouldering some risk at losing local patrons, Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido is presenting the Kander and Ebb (score), Terrence McNally (book) musical based on the 1976 novel by Manuel Puig’s “The Kiss of the Spiderwoman”.

A story at odds with itself as it is a fantasy and a tragedy; a story that takes place in an Argentine prison ‘sometime in the recent past’ and traces the relationship between two polar opposite prisoners, a gay window dresser and a macho Marxist rebel.

Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Richard Bermudez
They are thrown together in the same cell, most likely by design by the then rebelling Latin American revolutionists. The powers that be need information and one of the inmates, Molina, is pressured into getting it from the stiff upper lipped and belligerent Valenitn.  

The musical opened on Broadway in 1993 and ran for 904 performances. It walked away with several Tony’s including Best Musical (Score), Leading Actress in a Musical and Costume Design.

To my recollection the closest the musical version came to San Diego was in 1995 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center where Chita Rivera repeated her Tony Award winning performance. Yours truly found the four -leaf clover both years, having seen both productions, one on the east coast the other right here in our own back yard.  

When producer Josh Carr let it be known that The Welk Theatre in Escondido planned to mount the show, my excitement carried me to the opening night performance and never once was I disappointed.

Director/choreographer Ray Limon, three -time Craig Noel Award nominee for direction and choreography, has gathered a winning team to tell Puig’s story of corruption, brutality, persecution and love under the most bizarre and unconventional set of circumstances.  

"Dressing Them Up"
It unfolds in a prison cell (Ray Limon, Jennifer Edwards and Doug Davis) and in the mind of a prisoner deemed a ‘sexual deviant’, Molina (Jeffrey Parsons) the gay window dresser (“Dressing Them Up”) and his hard- core Marxist revolutionary cellmate, Valeltin. (Richard Bermudez so very sexy in Moonlight’s “Aida”, looking not so bad here either, and sounding vocally strong throughout)

In the background, Aurora (an excellent Natalie Nucci) or ‘the spider woman’ takes over Molina’s imagination (“And The Moon Grows Dimmer”) and sets into motion a series of stories about his favorite actresses all masterminded by Molina who obsessed over his romantic movie stars, all.

His fantasy Aurora/spider woman (“And The Moon Grows Dimmer” and “Her Name is Aurora”), appears in dreamlike sequences but boy she looks very real and is exceptionally right in voice and movement as the seductress taunting Molina into her web, but beware of the Kiss! “Let’s Make Love”.

Dressed to the nines in Janet pitcher’s skin- tight black sleek, velvet and spangled, or white Tux and feathers there is no taking your eyes off every one of her musical numbers whether she is slinking down a spiral staircase, dancing, in a gilded cage or on an overhead ramp looking down on everything. 
Scene from "Kiss of the Spider Woman
Molina’s storytelling and his love of old movies take him away from the pain of being harassed, used and humiliated by of the rest of the ‘chauvinist’ men including the Warden (Robert Hoyt -“Hey, Molina, you little queer. Here’s a leading man for one of your movies.”)  

Jeffrey Scott Parsons fits the role of Molina just perfectly. His eagerness, attentiveness and soft -spoken advances toward Valentin give him the credibility to go back and forth as a dreamer, faithful friend and loving son. Looking like he stepped out of a prison bandbox, he accessorizes his prison uniform with a blazing red scarf.

Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Richard Bermudez
Appearing last at The Welk, he took on the role of the Emcee in their “Cabaret” he was nominated for Outstanding Lead Performance Male by The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. Singing, dancing and comic timing were plusses for him then and still ring true.

Valentine isn’t very impressed with his gay cellmate either by marking off his side of the cell to separate the two, or by trying to ignore the stories by keeping his distance; “Will you please shut up, Will you ever shut up?” “I’m not one of your goddamn movies, I will probably die here.”

Turning the coin to Valentin and the treatment he receives in ‘interrogation’ by way of looking for information about his cohort’s outside the walls reveals the brutality and darkness of the story played against the lightness of Molina’s daydreams.

(Top) Lisa Dyson and Kylie Molnar (Bottom) Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Richard Bermuda
The two tracks run parallel and come together when Molina, Valentin’s girl Maria (Kylie Molmar) and Molina’s mother (Lisa Dyson) sing their most recognizable “Dear One”, “You Could Never Shame Me”, “Mama, It’s Me” and “Anything For Him”. Over the course of time, however, the relationship between the two softens and by plays end…well.

But the most moving and goose pimple moment comes when Bermudez, in his glorious baritone voice begins the prelude to “The Day After That” when the entire company joins in, and just about silences the audience in a breathless moment that crashes through all sound barriers when one can finally let a breath out.    

Strong sound (Patrick Hoyny) support comes from musical director Justin Grey and his four piece live band in the pit) including reed, trumpet, keyboard, Charles Erdah, Elizabeth Howard, Don Kuhli and Leigh Southern on keys).

Live musicians, excellent lighting design by Jennifer Edwards, always wonderful costumes by Janet Pitcher, top notch dance coordination by Sean Kiralla and a full throated cast of all men save Nucci, Lisa Dyson and Kylie Molnar, soars with enough energy and testosterone to last throughout the run which, saving some unexpected turn of events will play through Oct. 22nd.
Natalie Nucci as The Spider Woman
In a fitting tribute to the late great song and dance man, director, actor and mentor, once Mr. Starlight himself Don Ward, General Manager of Welk Resort Theatre, Sean Coogan dedicated this important show to Don as an acknowledgement to his past achievements and for future risks they may take in the years to come.

“Kiss of the Spiderwoman” isn’t a show you will see on many future musical theatre lineups. This is a special show, particularly in these days of our now heavy-handed government interference in the LGBT community. Molina’s imprisonment was just the tip of the iceberg.

Yours truly gives it two thumbs up!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 22nd.
Organization: Welk Resort Theatres
Phone: 1.888.802.7469
Production Type: Musical
Where: 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA 92026
Ticket Prices: $38.00-$51.00
Photo: Ken Jacques

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