John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” with its wild tonal shifts and problematic structure, is a tricky musical to pull off. The show careens from showbiz fantasy to brutal horror back to outright camp, and its thematic through-line isn’t nearly as strong as in the duo’s classics “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”
That’s all the more reason to admire SecondStory Repertory’s uneven but musically accomplished production of this infrequently staged show. Despite the limited dimensions of its playing space, the Redmond theater has been quite ambitious with well-known Broadway shows lately, recently tackling Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” And the season will close in June with “Les Cage Aux Folles.”
A familiar face on Seattle stages, who has undertaken many roles at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Billie Wildrick goes behind the scenes here to direct “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” a tale of love, torture and celluloid escapism in a Buenos Aires prison based on the movie of the same title.
Gay window dresser Molina (Ryan McCabe) is serving an eight-year sentence for corrupting a minor, while his new cellmate, Valentin (Justin Carrell), is a Marxist revolutionary with secrets the warden (Brad Cook) is determined to extract. Molina has found solace in the memories of movies starring screen siren Aurora (Sari Breznau), but those pleasant diversions are sometimes replaced by the vision of Aurora as the Spider Woman, a femme fatale whose kiss equals death.
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McCabe is perhaps a little too fresh-faced for the part, but his clear-as-a-bell vocals and irrepressible enthusiasm make him a compelling lead. Carrell’s commitment to an unconvincing accent restricts an already terse performance, but his beautifully sung numbers are full of the feeling the acting lacks. Similarly, Breznau is underwhelming as an object of fear and desire until her songs kick into high gear and her smoky, powerful voice can command the room.
While SecondStory’s small stage doesn’t allow for the expansive horrors of the prison to be fully felt, Alyssa Milione’s stark lighting creates a dank, foreboding atmosphere. Wildrick’s direction is at its best when the show breaks free from those dingy constraints. The glitzy show-tune numbers are exciting escapes from reality, just as vital for the audience as they are for Molina.
Dusty Somers: email@example.com