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    Categories: A & ETheater

Review: Utah Rep’s Kiss of the Spider Woman

Kenneth Wayne and Juan Pereira in Utah Rep's production of Kiss of the Spiderwoman: The Musical.

Kiss of the Spiderwoman is a novel by Argentinean writer Manuel Puig about a jailhouse conversation between two inmates. Kiss of the Spiderwoman: The Musical is the same thing, only with singing and jazz hands!

And while that may sound goofy, turns out its pretty awesome—all musicals, after all, require a suspension of cool ironic detachment.

Utah Repertory Theater Company’s production is an excellently sung and impressively produced version of the musical by the creators of the Broadway canon-level plays Cabaret and Chicago. As befits a play from composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, there’s plenty of strutting, feather boas and fishnet.

Molina (Kenneth Wayne), who is in prison for sexual deviancy, is paired with a communist revolutionary Valentin (Juan Pereira). Molina is asked by the sadistic warden to help coax information from his cell mate and name the names. Molina passes the time and bewitches Valentin by enacting scenes from films he saw as a young boy that feature a vampish woman named Aurora, the titular Spiderwoman (Erin Royall Carlson). These silver-screen tales spring to life with full cabaret glory and director Johnny Hebda, makes good use of his hunky ensemble of shirtless men (the other prisoners) to bring the va-va-voom.

It’s hard to assemble such a large cast of men who can sing and it’s an impressive feat that Hebda has accomplished on what I can only imagine is the thinnest of shoestring budgets. Everyone in this play, including the two women who play Molina’s mother (Casey Matern) and Valentin’s sweetheart (Karli Rose Lowry) has massive pipes and blows out the back of Utah Rep’s teeny house in the Sorensen Unity Center.

The stars, however, are Wayne’s Molina and Royall Carlson’s Aurora/Spiderwoman.

Wayne plays what, in a lesser actor’s hands, could easily turn into a campy, off-the-rack queen with incredible depth and range. Caught between his increasing loyalties to Valentin and the carrot of early release to see to his ailing mother, Wayne shows off a huge range of inner turmoil and, of course, a complete repertoire of torch songs.

Royall Carslon, in her fishnet stockings makes sure you know that yes, those legs, in fact, do go all the way up. This is a sexy role, full of heat and drum-kick burlesque in every moment. She prowls the stage, the imaginary siren luring the desperate inmates to their doom with a kiss from her lips, and damn, man it’s banging hot. This broad can sing!

Utah Rep’s production of this lusty play, full of longing and fear was surprising and a real thrill. Scattered among the large cast, I did witness and cringe a bit at some sub-par acting—an unfortunate side-effect of producers needing singers first and actors second.

But, like Molina, I won’t name names.

Besides, Wayne and Royall Carlson, pull the entire cast up to dazzling heights in this swanky cool play.

The house was only half full last night, which was a bummer, considering the level of talent filling the room. The run continues through May 7. See it while it’s hot. Tickets and info here.

Jeremy Pugh :Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Web Editor. He covers culture, history, theater, the outdoors and whatever else we ask him to. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the forthcoming history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake" (Spring 2019, Reedy Press).