KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN–THE MUSICAL, Apple Tree Theatre. Terrence McNally, John Kander, and Fred Ebb’s musical–based on Manuel Puig’s novel about a macho Marxist and a gay window dresser imprisoned together under a Latin American dictatorship–on Broadway was dense and dazzling. The Harold Prince production employed high-tech multimedia to crosscut between the grim reality of prison and the effeminate Molina’s movie-musical fantasies, his psychic refuge. Apple Tree Theatre’s smaller-scale, lower-budget staging can’t approach that cinematic fluidity and thus loses the sense of parallel worlds. And Marla Lampert’s choreography fails to establish the psychic connection between Molina and his movie-star idol–Aurora, the glamorous “Spider Woman” who symbolizes death–while music director Thomas Murray’s small offstage band sounds pretty skimpy compared to the alternately lush and thunderous Broadway orchestra.

Yet this gutsy, workmanlike staging by Gary Griffin actually enhances the power of the quieter scenes. The intimacy between Dirk Lumbard’s Molina and Stef Tovar’s Valentin highlights the men’s transformations, as Valentin’s rigid radicalism softens and Molina turns from self-despising pseudo woman into brave, proud gay man. Cindy Marchionda as Aurora, McKinley Carter as Valentin’s girlfriend, and Marilynn Bogetich as Molina’s mother provide strong support, as does a crack six-man ensemble playing the convicts who morph into chorus boys in Molina’s fevered fantasies. But the show’s great strength is the witty, gritty writing as played by these two committed, skillful actors, making for unusually compelling musical drama. –Albert Williams