Scarfed for Life: Valentin and Molina ponder captivity, neckwear.

Sign up for our free newsletter

The fierce revolutionary Marxist and the flamboyant, movie-adoring window-dresser who share a Latin American prison cell in Kiss of the Spider Woman have always hailed from different social strata, but until I saw Eric Schaeffer’s attractive if frenetically inert staging, it had never occurred to me that they might also hail from different musicals. Will Chase’s brooding, bearded Valentin appears to have stepped straight out of Evita, with Che’s populist ferocity intact, while Hunter Foster’s fluttery, scarf-twirling Molina resembles no one so much as La Cage aux Folles’ showbiz-savvy Albin, sans sequins. Each has virtues as a stage creature—Valentin can nail an anthem to the rafters; Molina can deliver a quip and conjure a movie diva (sultry Nastascia Diaz, swathed by costumer Anne Kennedy in a variety of glittery or feathery black fabrics). But as played at Signature Theatre, they’re from essentially different universes, and no amount of cage-rattling by chorus boys is going to make them connect emotionally. Broadway’s Spider Woman, simplified and broadened from the complex Manuel Puig novel that also inspired a film version, was never a great musical; John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote it during a decade-long dry spell between two quick flops (The Rink and Steel Pier), and it got through a money-losing two-year run mostly on spectacle and the star power of a high-kicking Chita Rivera. At Signature, where designer Adam Koch’s dark metal cellblocks and twisting staircases hem in a cramped multilevel stage, no one could do much kicking even if Karma Camp’s earthbound choreography called for it. The three principals have stage presence—Diaz especially—but performances in lesser roles tend to be either characterless (the two women who aren’t arachnoid) or wildly overstated (a screaming caricature of a prison warden who might conceivably be interesting if played with subtler menace). For every staging element that works (an executed prisoner being tugged up a spiral staircase by an invisible strand of the Spider Woman’s web), there are three that don’t (flashlight hats that make dream-sequence nurses look like coal miners, web-evoking lighting sabotaged by an overtextured setting, a kitschy tango where you can practically see the leading man counting steps). John Kalbfleisch’s band sizzles—in fact, the whole show sounds great—but draw you into its web? Not for a second.