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REVIEW: KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN at Fakkel Theater - Broadway World

From August 30 to September 15, Inteam Production is presenting the Belgian premiere of Kander & Ebb's masterpiece Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel by Manuel Puig and the award-winning movie version in 1985.

With a clever book by Terrence McNally, who also wrote the book of Anastaia (currently opening in Den Haag a hundred miles north), the musical version had a problematic beginning at SUNY Purchase in New York in 1990 before opening with the great Chita Rivera in the title role in Toronto in June 1992, followed by a moderately successful West End run before opening on Broadway in may 1993, for which it won 3 Tony Awards (Best Musical, Book and Score). It managed to pull off a 904-performance run despite a mixed review by kingmaker Frank Rich, maybe because musicals dealing with death, torture, and pedophilia with a post-mortem finale are not in fashion in this Disneyfied era of musical theater.

But strangely Kiss of the Spider Woman has never been properly revived, though this summer it was also down at Baden near Vienna and we are looking for the Australian premiere next November in Melbourne with the great Caroline O'Connor in the title part, a part she was born to play. And we are already praying for a London transfer. A very good French adaptation has been waiting to be produced for almost 10 years despite 3 highly promising and successful readings.

In the meantime, this Intem Production is so professional and polished in every department it might easily be the best since the original Broadway production that I was lucky to have seen twice with Vanessa Williams if unfortunately not with Chita Rivera.

Albeit still a little young for the part, freshly graduated Alyssa Luypaert does full justice to the difficult part of Aurora, which-initially a supporting part-was blown up the demands of Chita. She's especially good in the singing and dancing department and definitely possesses charisma and poise.

The real core of the drama however is the relationship between Molina, the gay prisoner, and Valentin; the straight political activist. Both Brent Pannier and Peter Van Keymeulen are excellent vocally and totally believable in their portrayal of the two multi-layered characters.

An Lauwereins as Molina's mother and Sofie de Schryver as Marta, Valentin's girlfriend are also very moving.

As for the ensemble, it is perfectly drilled by choreographer Frank de Peuter, with many nods to the original choreography by Rob Marshal and Vince Patterson, especially in the two big production numbers "Where You Are " and "Gimme Love".

Director and producer Niels de Walk steps in the shoes of the great Late Harold Prince well, with the help of very modern, but sometime minimalist yet effective designs and costumes by Yannic Duchateau.

The nine-piece band conducted by Thomas Vanhauwaert also does justice to the greatness of this unusually versatile Kander and Ebb score, incorporating Latin rhythms and lyrical ballads with their trademark show-biz style that made Cabaret and Chicago so timeless (kind of an American answer to the Loyd Webber British invasion of Broadway in the late 80's).

This production of this too rarely seen masterwork is not to be missed in Antwerp in the intimate but beautiful Red Room of the Fakkel Theater, where it is deservedly finding an enthusiastic audience and will surely continue to do so till the end of September.

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