THEATER REVIEW: Candye Kane gives her all in “The Toughest Girl Alive”

It’s as difficult to squeeze a plus-size woman like Candye Kane into a size 6 as it is to condense her bigger-than-life story into a well-behaved musical biography.

San Diego Ballet artistic director Javier Velasco has taken Kane’s story and attempted to tame it to manageable size, but “The Toughest Girl Alive” (playing through Feb. 6 at Moxie Theatre) keeps spilling over and moving in other directions.

Small wonder: Parental abuse (and a mother who taught her to shoplift), rape, teen motherhood, drug abuse, pornography, attempted suicide and gang violence have all been part of Kane’s 45 years on Earth. And that’s not to mention her careers: porn star, mother, failed country singer, leader of a band and blues/jazz singer of some renown.

Along the way, Kane became a Mormon convert (never adequately explained; she was born Jewish) and a devotee of positive affirmations, which she credits with helping her beat pancreatic cancer.

“The Toughest Girl Alive” offers experienced thespians Bethany Slomka (Tracy in San Diego Rep’s recent “Hairspray”) and Robert Kirk (from Moxie’s “Fall” and “Dog Act”), both excellent in multiple roles, and a fine four-piece band consisting of Sue Palmer on piano, Laura Chavez on guitar, Candye’s eldest son Evan Caleb on drums and Keenan Shaw on bass.

The show works best when Kane sings – she has a big, rich, easy-to-listen-to voice that can belt or whisper, cry or celebrate with equal ease. That voice, along with her sense of humor (she has described herself as “a fat black drag queen trapped in a white woman’s body;” Gene Simmons of Kiss as looking “like a gargoyle”) can win over any audience.

The parts that don’t work as well are the turns (especially in the first act) in which the chronology gets more confusing than necessary, and the parts at the end in which Kane preaches her political gospel about legalizing prostitution (“We should outlaw poverty, not prostitution”) and makes other unsurprising comments.

This show has the elements of a hit but needs to be reworked and tightened a bit. Kane is a role model for the plus-sized woman and an advocate for causes such as equal rights for the LGBT community. She has also worked with the United by Music charity, which encourages young people with disabilities such as Down syndrome to write their own songs to help them overcome their challenges.

I don’t know whether Kane is the toughest girl alive, but she certainly has one of the best blues voices around, as evidenced by her 10 CDs and countless awards.

The details

“The Toughest Girl Alive” plays through Feb. 6 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N, San Diego.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call (858) 598-7620 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.