Melbourne. So far as cities go, it’s a great one. We are incredibly lucky to live in the cultural hub of Australia; a place where creative expression is encouraged and more importantly a place where people can be what ever they want to be. For an ever increasing number of us it is also a place to support and celebrate our differences. Many groups that were once deemed as a ‘minority’ are now seen as active, vocal and socially relevant members of society. One such group is Melbourne’s out and proud gay community.
It’s no secret that Melbourne’s music theatre scene in particular provides a supportive environment for the gay community and as a that it continues to be a leader in promoting equality.
One of the cultural centre pieces of the gay community in Melbourne is the annual Midsumma festival. Midsumma prides itself on being a festival that promotes the pride and diversity of Victoria’s lesbian, gay and allied communities.
Incredibly the festival has grown to such a large event that it is now recognised as one of the top five gay and lesbian culture and arts festivals in the entire world.
Midsumma – Celebrating Queer Culture
Now regulars to the Midsumma festival, Shoosh productions are back, and this year they have brought with them Kiss of the Spider Woman — a show which should bring the festival to its feet.
The show divided critics when it first opened on Broadway but went on to be a huge commercial success winning an impressive 6 Tony Awards including best musical in 1993.
Kiss of the Spiderwoman tells the story of two men who share a prison cell in Latin America – Molina, a gay window-dresser imprisoned for seducing a minor, and Valentin, a straight Marxist and now political prisoner. In order to escape the torments of imprisonment, Molina conjures up a fantasy world that centres on Aurora, his favourite actress from the movies he watched as a child. He has loved her in every role except that of the Spider Woman, a vixen who kills with her kiss.
"Kiss of The Spider Woman is my personal favourite of Kander and Ebb’s work," notes Rosa McCarty who plays The Spiderwoman/Aurora in Shoosh’s production. "Even though it shares some similarities with Cabaret in that it is set in a politically oppressive scenario, I love the development of the characters, and the music is sensational."
Alongside Rosa is one of Melbourne theatre’s most sought after men, Shaun Kingmar, who plays political prisoner Valentin.
"KotS is possibly one of my favourite pieces. It has an outstanding book by Terrence McNally and I believe one of the strongest scores from Kander and Ebb. It’s an interesting piece because it blends a highly dramatic book show, with the more traditional ‘song and dance’ musical comedy show. It does this quite cleverly and seamlessly. It’s intelligent. It makes you think. But it is also highly entertaining."
Surprisingly, Shoosh’s upcoming production is the Victorian premiere of the show.
"It is unbelievable that this piece has not been performed previously," says Rosa. "But what a terrific opportunity! The show is perfectly suited to the Midsumma festival as it covers many issues that are of relevance to not only the gay but the larger community as a whole, including persecution – political, sexual, and ideological. I think all audience members will identify with the major themes of this show which are love, compassion, unlikely friendship, justice and imagination."
Shaun has thrived on the uniqueness of his character and the vast contrast between Valentin and Molina played by Sam Kitchen.
"One of the strengths in the show is in the characters. Adapted from the book (into a play, into a film), the characters of Molina and Valentin are the quintessential ‘odd couple.’ One straight, one gay. One an activist, the other a pacifist. One a dreamer, the other a realist. By throwing them into a cell together, those differences, and to an even greater extent their similarities, become more apparent. It has been a fun process finding the truth to these characters and digging a little deeper."
For Rosa her relationship with the characters in the show presents an interesting challenge. "Although I am playing two discrete roles of Aurora and Spider Woman, Aurora is actually an actress playing five different characters! The portrayal of six different characters in total has been the most challenging aspect of this role but is so enjoyable. I see many similarities between Aurora/Spider Woman and the Emcee in Cabaret; who in essence, are the narrators of the story."
Credit where credit is due, Shoosh have an amazing track record with the casting of their shows and their current line-up could be its strongest yet. A strong ensemble of performers have been cast to add to the strength of its leading players.
"The cast is wonderful (yes I know I’m supposed to say that anyway – but they are)," says Shaun. "The boys in the show have worked damn hard and it shows. Beryl Frees is wonderful as always, as is Sarah Watson. And Will Hanley gives a beautiful cameo performance. And then of course there is the mega talented Rosa McCarty and Sam Kitchen… Need I say more?"
The dynamic duo of Brad Fischer and Nathan Firmin are back at the helm of Shoosh once again and the extent of their creative talents has not escaped Rosa.
"It’s fantastic to have creative input and perspective from two people, but who are on the same wavelength. I think their interpretation of the show at the Cromwell will translate well for Kiss of the Spider Woman, and the size of the theatre and audience will perfectly capture the intimacy of the characters and the environment they find themselves in."
SHooSH Productions presents:
Kiss of the Spiderwoman
Cromwell Road Theatre, South Yarra
For more details check out our what’s on section.