Theater

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Theatre on the Square

Directed by Ron Spencer

Through Sept. 17

Theatre on the Square opened their season in the midst of the Indianapolis Fringe Festival with the Indiana premiere of Kiss of the Spider Woman, winner of seven Tony Awards. The show is a sublime success. Linda K. Leonard as the Spider Woman

After some horrendous sound issues were dealt with, the irritated equipment settled down so the magnificence of the performances could come through unhindered.

Luis Molina and Valentin Arregui are cellmates in a South American prison. Molina, a flamboyant homosexual, is serving a term for corrupting a minor, while Valentin is a member of a group of rebels undermining the government. Valentin has no sympathy or tolerance for Molina, who he sees as silly and weak. But close quarters and torture bring the two together. The constant threat of death in the prison is represented in Molina's mind by the Spider Woman, a character his idol, the actress Aurora, portrayed in one of the many movies Molina uses as an escape mechanism. The kiss of the Spider Woman brings death to anyone who receives it.

Director Ron Spencer nabbed two leads that had previous Spider Woman experience. Bill Myers as Valentin was part of the original cast, working with the authors and original directors to develop the show that made it onto Broadway. His experience with the character is evident. Valentin rages about his people's plight and he explodes on stage. His songs are full of raw emotion.

Linda K. Leonard as the Spider Woman and Molina's Aurora won the Leon Rabin Award for Best Actress in a Musical in the part. Leonard crawls over and up the stage in her spider-web encrusted bodysuit, a spider as well as a seductress. She seamlessly flows into the role of B-movie actress Aurora, a simple, lovely girl - and a redemptive character.

Both Myers and Leonard have exemplary vocal prowess, but Indianapolis favorite Ron Spencer had my rapt attention as Molina. In my seven years of covering theater, this was the first time I had seen Spencer not only in a totally serious role, but had heard him really sing. The combination made me wonder why he has been hiding these talents from his audiences. Spencer, known as TOTS' artistic director and founder, as well as a director, choreographer and more, has the kind of voice made for the stage. Gone is any trace of his gravely speaking voice; instead, his well-toned and expressive songs were the cornerstones of the show. His "She's a Woman" - all I can say is wow.

The leads were ably backed by John Phillips as waiter Gabriel (also the vocal director), who also had a stunning number; Betsy Bullis, as Molina's mother; and Kelleen Strutz as Marta, Valentin's love interest.

Spencer's set design of multilevel prison bars works as a simple yet effective environment, and costuming by Cheryl Harmon, Costumes by Margie, was effective. Kevin Brown's mood lighting set the otherworldly feel of the show - though the fog machine seemed to be a little overdone.

When you are out Fringing, don't forget Kiss of the Spider Woman. TOTS' performance gives us a glimpse of what the award-winning Broadway show must have been like. It's exciting to see that this theater is up to the challenge of a musical like this one.

Kiss of the Spider Woman continues through Sept. 17. TOTS is located at 627 Massachusetts Ave. Call 685-TOTS or go to www.tots.org.

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