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Kiss of the Spider Woman

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Having grown up in Northern San Diego County, I never expected to see Kander & Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman on stage at the Welk Dinner Theatre. The production is certainly a risk for the theatre. It is, also, obviously a labor of love for Director/Choreographer Ray Limon and Producer Joshua Carr.

Spider Woman was the penultimate Kader & Ebb production on Broadway and their last successful Broadway outing prior to Ebb’s death in 2004. Despite its credentials and a haunting score, the show is little revived because few musicals are as dark, or as frank. The show deals bluntly with imprisonment, homosexuality, and torture.

The action takes place in an unnamed South American country. Valentin (Richard Bermudez) has been arrested for revolutionary activities. He is thrown into a cell with Molina (Jeffrey Scott Parsons), a flamboyant window dresser. Neither man understands the other, and there is immediate tension.

Molina survives the beatings and the humiliations by escaping to the world of the movies he loved as a child, particularly those featuring the spectacular Aurora (Natalie Nucci). He shares the plots with Valentin, quoting the dialog from his favorite scenes. Although initially resistant, Valentin needs an escape and slowly falls under Aurora’s spell. The men eventually form a strong and trusting bond which is tested by the outside world.

The film sequences offer the possibility for glitzy musical numbers and a relief from the dank prison cells. But they also cleverly reinforce the dueling themes of love and betrayal which form the foundation of Terrence McNally’s book.

Limon has worked with all three of the leads before, and his trust in them shows in their performances. Nucci radiates a glamorous star quality and has great fun spoofing movie tropes, while never forgetting the darker elements in her character. She navigates both Limon’s choreography and John Kander’s score with ease. Bermudez bristles with a fervent intensity and plenty of testosterone. His physical beauty will be fatal to Molina, and his voice is equally stunning. I don’t generally like when tenors sing roles meant for baritones, but Bermudez’s lower register is rich and full and his high notes are thrilling. Parsons brings an eloquent humanity to Molina’s jail cell extravagance. But he never falls into the trap of overdoing the campiness and alienating the audience. His Molina, quite properly, operates on heart.

Lisa Dyson and Kylie Molnar nicely fill out the roles of Molina’s Mother and Valentin’s lover, Marta, respectively. Robert Hoyt makes a chilling and despicable warden, and the large chorus of male prisoners throw themselves into their roles with true commitment.

Limon knows the space intimately and utilizes every part in a vibrant staging of the show. His choreography, performed by Aurora and the prisoners,  is flashy and energetic. It contrasts beautifully with the intimate moments of slowly growing affection between Molina and Valentin.

The drive to the Welk property can be a long one, but the lure of catching a strong production of this little-seen musical should inspire theatre-lovers to visit.

Welk Dinner Theatre    September 1 – October 22, 2017



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.