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Gala Hispanic Theatre El Bola — Cuba’s King of Song

By • Jun 16th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
El Bola — Cuba’s King of Song by Héctor Quintero
Gala Hispanic Theatre
GALA Theatre-Tivoli, Washington, DC
Through June 27th
2 hours, with one intermission
$20-$38
Reviewed June 10, 2010

There are three known ways to construct a successful musical tribute show: 1. Just offer a fabulous revue, one song after another, as with the Ain’t Misbehavin’ the Fats Waller tribute. 2. Do the songs interspersed with a snappy true (or mostly true, or somewhat true in parts) story of the artists’ lives: Jersey Boys, about the Four Seasons, for example. 3. Perform the fabulous songs and paste on a totally unrelated but passably absorbing story — in the manner of Mama Mia,, with its finger poppin’ ABBA songs garnished with a loopy story about a woman who had sex one weekend with three different men, a funsy ’70s excess that led to awkward ’90s consequences.

And then there’s El Bola — Cuba’s King of Song, a tribute musical by the Cuban playwright Héctor Quintero that is receiving is premiere production at Gala Theatre.

Quintero tries to have his tribute every which way. It’s part song revue, part bio-musical and part songs-plus-grafted-on-story. The songs are so-so. The biography is sketchy. And the grafted on story is shaky.

The putative subject of Quintero’s show is El Bola (1911-71), a popular Cuban singer and pianist. We hear his songs. And we are treated to meager scraps of fan mag information about his life. He seemed unhappy. He was homosexual. He was celebrated in parts of Latin America and Europe as well as in Cuba. He was homely. He was very black and his nickname, Bola de Nieve (snowball), was a joke. His real name was Ignacio Jacinto Villa. One device for tossing in biographical information is an insubstantial journalist character who just happens along.

In El Bola, three singers interpret the title character’s repertoire. Marcelino Valdés is the one who represents and impersonates Bola. The other two are Enrique Divine, who plays a stagestruck transsexual, and Anamer Castrello, who is more your bosomy belter type. None of the three is a knockout, showstopping singer, but none of them is embarrassing, either.

Quintero’s extraneous story has to do with a playwright, not surprisingly named Héctor. He is working on a tribute musical about El Bola. To generate some conflict we have Héctor’s wife. She doesn’t like Bola’s songs or his style. That story line quickly fades. Taking its place is a financial dilemma. The show’s supposed backers withdraw their support. Then comes a Santería riff (having to do with Afro-Caribbean religion) and a buried treasure incident. On top of all that is information about the transsexual’s unhappy love life. Her Mexican boyfriend has disappeared.

Both the Santería and the transsexual bits provide dubious comedy.

Three dancers add distracting bits of showbiz flash.

The main attraction of El Bola is nostalgia. Those who pine for mid-20th Century romantic boleros and bluesy ballads, pepped up with the occasional folkloric ditty, get a rare opportunity to indulge their longings at El Bola. And those with an interest in Latino pop history may find the show useful. Also, there’s the Hispanic language factor. Gala performs in Spanish with English super-titles.

But those of us who are simply fond of well-made human interest shows with songs will probably be frustrated by El Bola. It strays away from all three of the well-worn paths that can lead to successful tribute musicals.

Cast

  • Hector: Carlos Castillo
  • Bola: Marcelino Valdes
  • Esposa: Karen Morales
  • Marian: Enrique Divine
  • Periodista: Gino Tassara
  • Madrina: Anamer Castrello
  • Margarito: Jonas Minino
  • Dancers: Alvaro Palau Palomino, Ari Hernandez Myers, Jesus Gonzalez

Musicians

  • Piano: Didier Prossaird
  • Saxophone, Flute: Antonio Orta
  • Drums: Mark Merella
  • Bass: Steve Sachse

Crew

  • Producing Artistic Director: Hugo Medrano
  • Associate Producing Director: Abel Lopez
  • Director: Hugo Medrano
  • Musical Director/Arranger: Didier Prossaird
  • Scenic Design: Osbel Susman-Pena
  • Light Design & Projections: Klyph Stanford
  • Costume Design: Dan Iwaniec
  • Sound Design: Matt Otto
  • Properties Design: Mariana Fernandez
  • Hair & Makeup Design: Jesus Gonzalez
  • Stage Manager: Lorena Sabogal
  • Technical Director: Eric Lucas
  • Production Manager: Mariana Osorio
  • Producer: Abel Lopez

Disclaimer: Gala Hispanic Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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