Patrons of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company are being treated to the full range of what the Broadway musical can be this summer. After opening the fun, feather-light "Xanadu" last month, Dillon is swinging 180 degrees into the dark and disturbing territory of "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
But don't let the theme put you off from a must-see local theater experience. "Spider Woman" teams a dynamite cast with the strong hand of director Chris Alleman and a live band to provide all the power of a big-stage musical in the intimate space of the Dillon theater. Josh Blanchard, the theater's executive director, takes to the boards for a powerful and moving performance as Molina, a gay man jailed for corrupting a minor in an anonymous Latin American country. Thrown into his cell is Valentin (Thomas Rainey), who's suspected of ties to revolutionaries and who's subjected to torture to reveal what he knows.
The basics of why they're in jail are inconsequential, as the play is primarily interested in the hopes and dreams put on hold in a prison cell and how the minds of the characters manifest where and with whom they'd really like to be. For Molina, the face of both his idol and his tormenter is Aurora, a film actress whose work he knows inside and out. Played with icy panache by Selah Grace, Aurora is also the eponymous Spider Woman - a role from the one film of hers Molina didn't like. She is, quite simply, death itself, and when she kisses you ... watch out.
Dark fantasy is the name of the game in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," with most of the songs involving people who aren't really there in the cell with Molina and Valentin. It takes a good chunk of the first act to acclimatize oneself to where this piece is going, but the slow reveals and eerie, ethereal realms we visit are worth the wait.
Those who've seen "Xanadu" know this summer's crop of repertory actors is first rate, but there are a few surprises - actors in "Spider Woman" who aren't in "Xanadu." One is Blanchard, who's been growing out his hair for months to look the part of Molina and who may have a role of a lifetime on his hands. Nothing about Molina suggests anything other than a lifetime of pain and disappointment, yet at his center is a spirit that's not willing to give up, nor succumb to bitterness. Blanchard's portrayal of Molina's incipient humanity in the face of ultimate brutality is quite extraordinary, and he and Raines work well together as cellmates who move from dislike to a sort of co-dependency.
Another treat is veteran Broadway actress Mercedes Perez, who plays Molina's mother. Even in a cast full of strong singers, she stands out with a voice made for a big hall, cutting loose in the tiny Dillon theater.
And in almost every musical number, we have the three actors portraying prisoners who do multiple duty as the Spider Woman's singing and dancing partners. It's hard to understate how wonderful this trio - composed of Daniel Drews, Tyrell Rae and Frank Sansone - fills out each number while bringing to life such a wide variety of characters.
Other cast members include Ashley Alana Kenney as Marta, Valentin's girlfriend, and Russel Mernagh as Marcos Esteban. A special guest spot goes to Bob Moore, who recorded the voice of the unseen warden.
In presenting "Kiss of the Spider Woman" this summer, the theater is taking something of a risk with such a dark-themed show, but for those up for it, it's a nicely done piece of more challenging theater, and it may stick with you for some time. Indeed, no one escapes the kiss of the Spider Woman.