IN THE late '70s and early '80s, Argentina was in the grip of a brutal military dictatorship. People were dragged from their homes, children were torn from their mothers to be raised by the government, and loved ones were shot or sometimes even thrown out of airplanes.
Anyone could be imprisoned and tortured for the slightest sign of dissension. Over 30,000 citizens were snatched away to be never seen again and, today, are known as “the disappeared.”
What can human beings, locked away in a prison during this horrific regime, do to relieve their minds of the atrocities of their environment?
They could sing show tunes.
The Collective Face is performing the Tony Award winning musical Kiss of the Spider Woman at Muse Arts Warehouse. The play, which takes place in a Latin American prison, is about a political prisoner, named Valentin, who befriends an openly gay man named Molina, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges of seducing a minor.
Molina retreats into an elaborate fantasy world built around the movies he loved as a child which all starred the enigmatic and beguiling “Spider Woman,” Aurora.
“It’s about the dualities of the world,” explains director David I. L. Poole. “It is a back and forth, back and forth between fantasy and reality.”
Each season, Collective Face tailors their show schedule to fit a particular theme. This season the theme is “Transformation and Travel”.
“I was looking at how theater has a transformative quality and it takes us places and this musical is all about that,” says Poole.
Because it is Latino Heritage Month, Poole wanted to perform a Latin musical, but there were other reasons Kiss of the Spider Woman was an apt selection.
“I also look for something that’s never been done in Savannah, how does it challenge us as a company, does it have some name recognition, is it going to give us some publicity in that sense, and also, does it fit in with our season theme, and (Kiss of the Spider Woman) just hit all the check marks,” explains Poole.
“I’ve fallen in love with it. The first time I read it I was like ‘okay, this is a really interesting musical,’ but the more and more I’ve been rehearsing it with the cast and company—and our actors are a perfect match for it—I thought, this is the one, this is unbelievable, and our performers are just top notch in it.”
These top notch performers include Collective Face’s managing director, Dandy Barrett, as Aurora, a role made famous by Chita Rivera.
“She is just unbelievable in this,” says Poole of his leading lady. “In a past life she went around the country and was a lounge singer and so she has that vocal quality that is perfect for Aurora. She is remarkable and beautiful on and off the stage.”
Chris Blair plays Molina. “It’s like the role was written for him,” Poole raves. “The role is so perfect for him and he will break your heart in the musical.”
The role of Valentin is played by Chad Hsu, who is not a member of the Collective Face ensemble but made a big impression on Poole in an open audition.
Having a diverse cast is very important to Poole, particularly in Kiss of the Spider Woman. “We have people from all different backgrounds in this play,” explains Poole.
“We have Asians, we have Hispanics, we have white people, and we have African Americans. So I wanted to make sure this piece is multicultural. It deals with a lot of issues that come up now and again in our psyche and our society.”
This will be only the second musical Collective Face has put on since they were established in 2009 (they performed Grey Gardens last season). Though putting on a huge Broadway musical comes with its share of challenges, Poole and company seem to be up to the task.
For the first time in Collective Face’s history there will be a small pit orchestra, featuring woodwinds, strings, piano, key board and percussion.
“The music is tough in this show. It is very tough,” says Poole about the score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who also wrote Chicago and Cabaret. “Those musicals are all very dark, but they have some light heartedness to them. You’re humming a tune and at the same time if you really think about what the characters are saying in that song, they are really talking about some political and social issues, which is the brilliance of Kander and Ebb.”
Shrinking down a big production to fit the Muse stage also poses some challenges, but as a designer, Poole is excited about what he has accomplished with the set design.
“I have this vision of creating atmosphere of space,” says Poole. “I didn’t want to limit ourselves to this small 8x8 cell with things happening outside of the cell, so I played with this idea of what point of view the audience going to see this scene in. Sometimes it’s forced perspective, sometimes it is vertical, like a birds-eye-view, so I played with that by moving the beds around an open space so that the set never becomes stagnant.”
With imaginative set design, stirring music, and a stellar cast, Poole has good reason to boast.
“One of my actors that I worked with for a long time, who is playing one of the guards, said that one of the things he likes about working with me is that I take you somewhere,” says Poole. “So with our theme of being transformative travel I wanted to make sure the audience is taken to this prison in Latin America.”