The Gaiety Theatre Company has been an eight-year labour of love for director Stephen Colyer.

Since its debut production, Fit To Be Tied, back in 2002 (starring a post-Home and Away, pre-True Blood Ryan Kwanten), the gay and lesbian theatre company has staged another six plays, all with the aim of giving voice to gay and lesbian characters.

The latest, Kiss of the Spider Woman, arrives at the Darlinghurst Theatre on July 8 with a backstory stretching some 35 years.

“It’s based on a [1976] novel Manuel Puig wrote, and then turned into a play, which debuted in London with Simon Callow and Mark Rylance,” Colyer explained to Sydney Star Observer.

“It was then turned into a [1985] film with Raul Julia and William Hurt, and William then won an Academy Award for it. Then Kander and Ebb, who wrote Chicago, turned it into a Broadway musical in 1993.

“It’s an odd couple story, if you like. Molina is a flamboyant gay window-dresser being oppressed by a militant government in Argentina. He’s thrown into a cell with a Marxist revolutionary, Valentin.

“Valentin is the ultimate pragmatist, whereas Molina is a real romantic, and his way of coping with being in prison is to disappear into his memories of movies, and of one actress in particular — the ‘Spider Woman’.

“They’re incompatible, really, but in the course of the story they get closer and learn a lot from each other.”

As you’d expect, the story has shifted form with each new adaptation, but the version presented by Gaiety Theatre is Kander and Ebb’s dreamlike musical staging.

“The original novel and play are really about the two guys sharing a prison cell. You heard about the ‘Spider Woman’, but you never saw her,” Colyer said.

“I think that alone would be too grim for a musical. What Kander and Ebb cleverly realised is that by ‘musicalising’ the montages that Molina is describing to Valentin, you give yourself licence to stage some pretty sensational production numbers — the movie montages feel quite magical.”

Colyer, who had been championing the musical in Australia for a decade before finally finding a theatre prepared to stage it, said he was puzzled by the lack of support on our shores for such a tried-and-tested hit.

“The musical won seven Tony Awards, and it had such an amazing pedigree as well, so there’s no surprise that it was such a success overseas. What is surprising is that there’s been no substantial production of it in Australia.

“Perhaps back in 1993 it was considered too risky to present a musical where the central character is a gay man.”

Thankfully, that’s where independent companies like Gaiety come in.

“Absolutely. Representation of gay characters in general is so important; anything that gives visibility to gay stories needs to be supported.”

info: Kiss of the Spider Woman plays at Darlinghurst Theatre, July 8 – August 8. Visit www.darlinghursttheatre.com

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