Janelle Renee Dunn & Neill Robertson in Kiss of the Spider Woman from Pandora Productions (2012). Photo: Michael Drury

By Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

As the social distance marches on, my list of musicals is growing. It seems every day I think of another show I want to explore and so I do! This installment includes lots of leading ladies, including a Spider-Woman, Norma Desmond, Auntie Mame, Morticia Addams, and Lady Guenevere. Each of these characters has tremendous presence, bold in their respective story, and absolutely amazing within their score. So here’s to the ladies of musicals, may they never be silenced.  

Kiss of the Spider Woman: This one piqued my interest as it was a John Kander and Fred Ebb show and I simply adore Cabaret. Just like that iconic show, this sultry and seductive tale juxtaposes fantasy with the dangers and grime of a prison. And when it comes to fantasies, this one mixes jazz, heroin, and a mysterious femme fatale with Hollywood pizazz. Like so many of these cast recordings, I am eager to see this one mounted on a local stage again (Pandora Productions mounted it in 2012).

Sunset Boulevard: One big complaint I hear about Andrew Lloyd Webber is his scores are flash with no substance. These major orchestrations have huge crescendos paired with power chords. In Sunset Boulevard, on the other hand, he strives for melody. Make no mistake, this noir tale of a faded silent film star is far from small. In the original cast recording, Glenn Close shows how big she can go as Norma Desmond. Her old Hollywood starlet is heartbreaking in “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” 

Mame: I was fortunate to see another of Jerry Herman’s shows, La Cage Aux Folle at Pandora Productions in March. Herman’s music in that show made me crave more and I got it in Mame. “It’s Today,” “Need a Little Christmas”, and “Bosom Buddies” brim with positivity and so much nostalgia that you can’t help but yearn for yesteryear and a better time. 

A Little Night Music: In my past installments, I have described my change of heart towards Stephen Sondheim. Merrily We Roll Along was cheerful, Sunday in the Park with George was simply beautiful, but A Little Night Music? This one could not hold me in its sway. The arias were endless. The operatic tone was boring. “Send in the Clowns” barely held my attention.

Big Fish: A stand out for me. By the end of the second song “Be the Hero,” I began fantasizing about a dream cast of local actors. I could imagine Carrie Cooke-Ketterman as Sandra, her husband Jeff as Edward Bloom. Susan Crocker’s robust mezzo voice would sound nice as the Witch, while Jake Minton could lend his charming vocals to Will. Staples of local theater like Greg Collier, Josh O’Brien, Jess Harris Stiller, Taylor Clemons would round out the ensemble as they perform at the MeX under Valerie Cannon’s direction. Again this was a fantasy, then again so is the musical (Big Fish had been scheduled to open May 6 at TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana and is tentatively expecting to open in October/November).

The Wedding Singer: The 1980s are in high gear lately and this one is no exception. What really surprised me about this one was the amount of references woven throughout the music. While “Somebody Kill Me” and “Grow Old With You” are taken directly from the movie of the same name, the songs written for the stage are reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Michael Jackson, among others from the yuppie-era. 

The Addams Family: I have to admit that I have avoided this show’s popularity because of my own bias based on – well, nothing. How could a musical about the Addams Family be worthwhile? Well I was wrong. The music is fun and gives a nice spin on the ghoulish and creepy family. The score is equally balanced between lighter fare such as “When You’re an Addams” and “Pulled” to more poignant songs like “Live Before We Die.” 

Camelot:  I have been curious about the iconic Alan Jay Lerner/ Frederick Loewe musical for far too long and yet have somehow managed to never encounter this show. At the time of its original Broadway production, in 1960, the title of the show became synonymous with the administration of President John Kennedy. And after a listen, songs like “The Lusty Month of May,” “If Ever I Would Leave You”, and “What Do the Simple Folk Do” are reminders; reminders of what made this musical so quintessential in the idealization of how leaders should behave.

And a quick word about some honorable mentions…

Whistle Down the Wind: Songs from this show always end up on Andrew Lloyd Webber compilations but the score has lots of flash with not much else.

Seussical: It’s family-friendly. It’s upbeat. It’s Dr.  Suess. Can’t say too much more about it.

Murder Ballad: This one has everything: death, adultery, a lot of emotions, and rock and roll (Acting Against Cancer had been scheduled to open a production of Murder Ballad on March 20 and will presumably be moving the production to another time this year).

Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!