Absolut Kiss | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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This cabaret concert by the cast of Kiss of the Spider Woman--The Musical, which is playing in a first-rate touring production at the Chicago Theatre, promises to be high on quality, emotional pull, and historical significance. Certainly no lover of American musical theater will want to miss hearing two near-legendary stars, Carol Lawrence and Rita Gardner, perform songs from the hugely influential shows that launched their careers. Lawrence, who created the role of Maria in West Side Story, will sing "Somewhere" in memory of her original Tony, Larry Kert; Gardner, whose soprano sounds even more dynamic and flexible than it was when she played Luisa in the 1960 premiere of The Fantasticks, will sing that work's signature tune, "Try to Remember," in honor of her original leading man, Kenneth Nelson. Kert and Nelson both died of AIDS, the disease that gives Absolut Kiss its raison d'etre: the evening is a fund-raiser for Open Hand Chicago, which provides meals on wheels to AIDS patients and their families. Other AIDS victims being Kissed include songwriters Peter Allen and Howard Ashman (with samplings of their quirky work) and rock star Freddie Mercury, whose "We Are the Champions" will be sung by Juan Chioran, Spider Woman's splendid leading man. The rest of the program ranges from intense and serious to outrageous and campy, with a potpourri of solo and group numbers as well as readings from the works of William S. Burroughs and Tony Kushner. Given the terrific talent on display the rest of the week in Kiss of the Spider Woman, this off-night extravaganza promises to be a memorable event. Monday, 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 849-2111.

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