Monday, October 12, 2015

Cuba Libre—Artists Repertory Theatre—downtown Portland

“You Can’t Go Home Again”

This world premiere musical is written by Carlos Lacámara and music & lyrics by Jorge Gómez, choreographed by Maija Garcia, music by Tiempo Libre and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (Artists Rep.’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway through November 15th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

The above quote is from a Thomas Wolfe novel (Look Homeward, Angel) and it seems to fit this play, too.  It does not mean you can’t go home physically but you can never recapture your Youth, going home in that sense.  And, if that Youth, as in this case, is in another country (Cuba), it makes it doubly hard to hold onto that heritage and their traditions.  Those “salad days” can never be repeated.

You leave loved ones and good memories behind and, although you might have been poor, they were may have been happy times.  But to prosper and grow in a “land of opportunity,” sacrifices may have to be made.  So you have the choice to stay with “dirty clothes—clean conscience” or to follow the yellow-brick road to fame and fortune.  If the latter is chosen, memories will haunt you and “the beat goes on.”

Does this mean you can’t identify with this story if you haven’t come from another country to this one?  No.  We all grow up, so to speak, and expand beyond our comfort levels to explore new territories in other parts of the county.  And we all have guilt and regrets of what mantels we have shed.  In my case, I spent nine years on the East Coast and finally abandoned that life to come here.  But I did leave (as the lead character in this tale does) a gal behind and it has haunted me ever since.  So can I identify with them?  Oh, yes!—and so can anyone, I believe….

Alonso (German Alexander) is a musician, an artist looking for fame in his native land of Cuba.  But it is the 1990’s under Castro and the American embargo.  So there is barely a meager level of existence, requiring people to beg borrow, steal and/or sell themselves for even the most basic of needs.  But Alonso does have his music and his band buddies, the patient, Hector (Brandon Contreas) and his nervous lover, Rudy (Jose Luaces) and his band leader, the energetic, Tarzan (Xavier Mili Saint Ives).

His dream is to enter the International Music Festival and move to Miami.  He, like so many others, wish to make a better life for themselves.  He supports himself and his loving mother, Olga (Luisa Sermol).  His stubborn brother, Ignacio (Nick Duckart), has already fled the country, supposedly lost at sea.

Meanwhile, he finds work in a mental hospital and meets Lisandra (Janet Dacal), who ministers as best she can to her patients.  They fall in love and, through her, he might have found a way to enter the Festival.  But, when he and his band get to Miami, he finds it a mixed blessing.  He does get involved with his agent, Annie (Sara Hennessy), and her young child but is the trade-off with his Past worth the effort?  You’ll have to see the play to find out.

Passionate!  Energetic!  Historic!  Viva, Cuba Libre!  I came with three people, not lovers of musicals, and they were so enthused by the end of the show, my blog manager even joined the actors onstage at the end of the show in the dancing.  It is that compelling.  Much of the credit must go to the director, Rodriguez, being Cuban-American and from Miami, this is his baby and he has nurtured it for three years to its present world premiere.  And, being a proud papa, I’m sure, he well deserves all the accolades he can garner from this production, as his “baby” has grown into a talented representation of a culture and an art form.  Broadway, look out!

The whole cast, including the ensemble and band, has a lot to be proud of.  The choreography (Garcia) is amazing, as are her dancers!  Not only do they play some of the supporting characters well, and sing, but their dancing is infectious.  “Triple threats,” as they say in the Biz.  And the band, Tiempo Libre, being onstage throughout, lends a personal credibility to the whole proceedings.  The setting (designer, Christopher Acebo), lighting (designer, Peter West) and costuming (designer, Gregory Pulver) are all first rate!  Without this talented team, this production would not be as exceptional as it is.

The whole cast fit the roles to such an extent, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles (are you listening, Broadway?).  I was especially taken by the heart-felt performance of Dacal, as the lady left behind, probably because of my own experience.  But her voice is incredible, as well as her appearance, leaving you with the wish that you could be in two worlds at once, as she would be, as most true loves are, impossible to match.

I highly recommend this production but know that it is selling out fast, so get your tickets now.  Also parking, as always, can be difficult downtown, so plan your time accordingly.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.