DO THIS: Kiss of the Spider Woman

11th Hour Theater Company stage Kander and Ebb’s musical, introducing a powerhouse vocalist from Milwaukee.

11th-hour-kiss-spider-womanThe rise of 11th Hour is one of Philly theatre’s great success stories. Now in their 11th season, they’ve grown from a fledgling group of recent college graduates, to the most significant force for new musical theatre in the city.

A relatively recent innovation is their Next Step Concert Series, in which musicals — sometimes well-known works, sometimes premieres — are done without costumes and scenery, and with minimal staging.

But don’t think for a minute this means they’re not theatrical! I saw two of their concerts last year — Cy Coleman’s The Life, and Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight — and they were more vibrantly alive than many fully produced shows I’ve seen. The young casts, brimming with talent, are a special pleasure. Sure enough, this series has become a Philly season highlight for those in the know. Performances nearly always sell out.

This week, 11th Hour is offering three concert performances of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on Manuel Puig’s novel about two male prisoners (Robert Hager and Jake Blouch) in a Latin American country, who survive the grimness of their days through fantasies woven around a beloved film diva — Aurora, the Spider Woman herself.

It’s unusual material for musical, certainly — but just right for Kander and Ebb, who are famous for in-your-face theatricality (Cabaret and Chicago are their best-known musicals) — and great roles for diva performers.

I asked Producing Artistic Director / Co-Founder Michael Philip O’Brien how they choose their concert shows. “We’re a small company with four artistic leaders. By doing four concert shows, everybody gets to pick a ‘passion piece’ — something maybe not mainstream or marketable on a larger level. We sometimes each choose shows we want to be in, or to direct.” (Kiss of the Spider Woman is the choice of Associate Artistic Director Steve Pacek, who will also direct the production.)

What can audiences expect? “It’s Kander and Ebb, so there will be glitz and glamour, of course. But it’s also an unusual show for them.”

As in previous concert shows, the cast is largely made up of young artists — so I ask O’Brien if there are any nerves attached to giving a young female performer a role that was previously played by Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams (and is rumored for Audra McDonald in a coming Broadway revival).

“We have Alina John, who studied at UArts and has performed at Milwaukee Rep. Yes, she’s young — but just wait till you here her sing!”

Kiss of the Spider Woman runs November 7-9 at Hamilton Family Arts Center (62 N. 2nd Street). Tickets and more information at 11thhourtheatrecompany.org.


David Fox teaches theater and runs academic programs at the University of Pennsylvania. For 16 years, he was theatre critic for the Philadelphia City Paper; he has also written for The New York Times and other publications. He also blogs on arts topics at recliningstandards.org.

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