By Chloe Perrett
Never before has a professional production of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman been staged in Australia so instant buzz was created when Melbourne Theatre Company would be the first to bring it to the Sumner Theatre. This musical duo are the heart and brains behind Cabaret (1966) and Chicago (1975) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992), so it comes as no surprise that Australia's Broadway Queen, Caroline O’Connor is the woman of the show.
It’s based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel set inside an Argentinian prison where two men are sharing a cell. Valenin is a Marxist revolutionary, and the other, Morlina is a gay window dresser who is serving an eight-year sentence on a fabricated charge and so he passes time and protects his sanity by escaping into a fantasy world of movies starring the fabulous diva Aurora.
Valentin is predictably harbouring macho behaviour as he rejects Molina straight away by drawing a real chalk line across the centre of the cell, barking that the gay man stay on his side, however, Molina wins Valentin over by helping escape torments of confinement by reenacting movie scenes.
Ainsley Melham is an absolute stand out in every waking moment so much so that you’d be accepting to just hear him storytell and sing to humble Adam-Jon Fiorentino for 2 hours straight.
There is a distinct latin flavour in every song starting from the opening number “Her Name is Aurora,”. We hear a haunting anthem “Over The Wall” that speaks to the angst of the people against oppression and isolation. The score includes character-driven songs like “Dressing Them Up” where Molina tells about his life and “I Draw The Line” allows Valentin to introduce himself. We hear the prisoners pine for their women, Molia for his mother, Valentin his girlfriend with the stunning “Dear One” and the powerful number “Where You Are” stops the show with its exceptional dance number.
O’Connor dramatizes lavish production numbers that drown out the screams of torture and offers some form of relief from the suffering, echoing shades of Cabaret and love. Ryan Gonzalez (Jersey Boys) serves real heartthrob as Gabriel and Mola’s mother played by Natalie Gamsu will tug gently on your heartstrings every time she appears on stage. Ensemble; Jakob Ambrose, Blake Appelqvist, Elandrah Eramiha, Natalie Gamsu, Joe Gaudion, Bert LaBonte, and Lyndon Watts all serve a great purpose on the small and intimate stage.
Dean Byrant directs exceptionally well not missing a beat in the story and backed by a strong creative technical team The moody lighting and soundscape has you feeling like you are trapped inside a claustrophobic prison cell with the stench of heat and men who are neglected and not given a hygienic or safe living condition.
Valentin is pushed to the limit to reveal information and when he doesn’t break, the Warden uses Molia to attempt in drawing information and despite his insistence that he is a coward, Molina makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect Valentin — and, in doing so, at last writes his own inspiring story.
Image Credit: Jeff Busby
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.