Tuesday, April 08, 2014

SSR's Kiss of the Spider Woman is perfect for Ryan McCabe

Ryan McCabe (seated), Justin Carrell (lying) (photo courtesy Billie Wildrick)

Kiss of the Spider Woman
SecondStory Repertory
Through April 13

SecondStory Rep has taken on a huge challenge in its production of Kiss of the Spider Woman. The musical with book by Terrence McNally and music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb is a dark, edgy undertaking, though it has some beautiful music and a morally uplifting message.

The musical is the story of two cell mates in a Latin American prison: Valentin (Justin Carrell), a Marxist revolutionary, and Molina (Ryan McCabe), a gay window dresser. At first, Valentin draws a line down the middle of their small cell in antipathy to the talkative and effusive Molina. Molina escapes their dark world into a fantasy world of the movies and a screen star he loves named Aurora.

But first, a “praise warning!” I am about to extol the virtues of Mr. Ryan McCabe.

Ryan McCabe’s time is now! His performance in Spider Woman is perfection and would be perfect no matter whose production he starred in, whether SecondStory or Village or 5th Avenue. He has toiled in the trenches of Seattle’s musical theater companies and proven his value over and again. He is the perfect age and in perfect voice for this role. So, kudos to SecondStory for choosing this musical and allowing him his starring vehicle.


The musical is not likely to be done anywhere else in town, though. It portrays torture on stage, and brings the audience into a prison setting, which is not one people are attracted to. It also has some short scenes and odd reversals of tone. The music is extremely challenging to sing and play, though the small band, led by Brandon Peck (music director), does a great job and SSR helped the actors by rigging a television for them to watch for conducting cues. With the band on the side of the stage, that help is very useful to keep the singing on track.

Justin Carrell is a young man with good instincts and a great voice. He would not be cast in a bigger theater’s production in the leading role, since he is both too young (for the role) and needs more experience acting. But this is exactly the reason that theaters like SSR and Seattle Musical Theatre are so important to our musical theater economy. They allow younger performers to get the seasoning and experience they need to grow into their abilities.

Sari Breznau plays the Spider Woman with grace and command. Her voice is luscious. In the large numbers, she works the best. In scenes where it is supposed to be from a movie, the staging gets crowded and muddled a bit, and paring down the bodies on stage would be a big help. But the ensemble is full of terrific performers, including well-done performances by Carol Richmond as Molina’s mother and Bo Mellinger as Molina’s waiter-crush. Julia Beers as Valentin’s love is also strong. Brad Cook as the Warden is appropriately menacing.

Note: there is a warning of brief nudity, which consists of a woman mooning and two bare chests. For more information, go to www.secondstoryrep.org or call 425-881-6777.