THE BASICS: LA LUPE: MY LIFE, MY DESTINY, the WNY premiere of the 2001 “play with music” by NYC playwright Carmen Rivera, presented by Raíces Theatre Company, directed by Victoria Pérez, starring Melinda Capeles, opened May 25 and runs only through June 10, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 6 at the Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave. 3rd floor (381-9333). www.RaicesTheatreCompany.com Water and chips ($1.00) Runtime: Two hours with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: If you’ve never heard of Cubano music legend Guadalupe Victoria Yoli — known as “La Lupe” — don’t worry. All is revealed in LA LUPE: MY LIFE, MY DESTINY. And honestly, how much did you really know about Cuban singing sensations Gloria and Emilio Estefan before you saw the 2015 musical ON YOUR FEET!? If you liked that bio-musical, you’ll like this story of the salsa sensation of the 1960s and 70s whose performances were so wild that when shoes, wigs, jewelry went flying as she sang, people often thought that she was on drugs. Like Gloria Estefan, La Lupe was a Cuban-born singer from the backwaters who rose to stardom, had an accident which took her out of circulation, and, though she had help from industry insiders when younger, ultimately had to take charge of her own career. LA LUPE: MY LIFE, MY DESTINY would be a “jukebox musical” except that “the book” is the actual story of her life and the songs are not shoehorned to artificially fit a made-up plot (as in say, MAMA MIA). With the intense focus on the lead character, La Lupe, it’s really a cabaret with a solid supporting cast providing sketches, an evening of great songs (all in Spanish) delivered in mind-blowing style by Melinda Capeles backed up by a tight three-man combo. It’s her show, she’s amazing, the band is amazing, don’t miss it, it’s a short run with only three shows a week, you’re welcome, mic drop.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This year, half of the directors nominated for an Artie Award are women, so if you haven’t noticed, that might not be happening in Hollywood, but it is in Buffalo. And one of our most consistently excellent directors is Victoria Pérez. There’s never a false note when she’s in charge, never a feeling that the actors are just phoning it in. Like the actual singer “La Lupe,” Ms. Pérez is a force to be reckoned with and it makes for a great evening.
I don’t speak Spanish, but I like listening to Latin music. So, for my gringo friends who will ask, the songs are all sung in Spanish, and the dialog is all in English.
In all honesty, the framing device is a little clunky – later in life La Lupe has gone back to college but is unhappy with her grade of “F” on an assignment to write a fact-based report. She has described her life, but her professor believes that she has written a work of fiction since nobody’s life could be that wild a ride. In “defending her thesis,” she starts to tell him about her childhood, and, just like that, we’re off, back to her impoverished youth where she won a radio contest for her singing and wants her father to allow her to abandon her plans to be a teacher and instead follow her destiny which requires a trip to Havana even though her step-mother tells her that nobody is interested in listening to a little “negrita” from the sticks.
But the music! ¡Madre de Dios! I knew that Melinda Capeles was one of our best local actresses as she completely inhabits every role she takes on. I had no idea that she could sing like that. She is consumed by the part. She must lose about five pounds every night. And the band, on stage the entire time, on a cleverly constructed thrust band stand (Rolando E. Gómez, Set Design) is not your typical local-musical band. Centered around Music Director/Percussionist Joey González with his conga and bongo drums, Cuban-born Hansel Herrera Deschapelles on trumpet and Jeremías Soto on keyboards, they are with her every minute. There’s a whole lot of music coming from just three guys who aren’t reading notes but are playing from the heart.
If La Lupe was not on your radar, well, here’s a chance to go back in time.
If La Lupe was not on your radar, well, here’s a chance to go back in time. She once sold millions of records, performed with Latino superstars Mongo Santamaria and later Tito Puente, and appeared on television shows including “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Dick Cavett Show,” and then fell into obscurity in the 1980s, mostly because she was hard to work with, but also due to the rise of Celia Cruz. Ms. Cruz is not the bad guy here, though, since it was she who introduced La Lupe to Mongo Santamaria when La Lupe was down on her luck. By the way, in addition to the 2001 musical about La Lupe, in 2007 Carmen Rivera wrote CELIA: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF CELIA CRUZ.
Raíces means “roots” in Spanish and certainly the company has gone back to its roots in terms of content, but also playwright. In fact, the company’s first production was the play LA GRINGA also by Carmen Rivera.
In addition to the role of La Lupe played and sung by Ms. Capeles, all of the other characters are played by Raíces regulars Rolando Martín Gómez, Smirna Mercedes Pérez, Dewel Pérez, María Pérez-Gómez, and their resident non-Latino, Steve Brachmann, who got a lot of laughs from a very appreciative audience for his portrayal of a bunch of different 1970s white guys.
Lead image courtesy Raíces Theatre Company
UP NEXT: At the 2018 Artie Awards Ceremony, Monday, June 4 at 8:00 p.m. at Shea’s 710 Theatre, Raíces Theatre Company has been nominated for “Outstanding Ensemble of a Play” and Melinda Capeles has been nominated for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play” with both nominations for Raíces’ DESDE EL PUENTE: CHRISTMAS EDITION.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!