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Raíces DESDE EL PUENTE goes musical with a Latin beat at Manny Fried

THE BASICS:  The bi-lingual festival of ten brand new ten-minute one-acts presented by Raíces (“Roots”) Theatre Company called DESDE EL PUENTE has added music this year. Opening on April 19 it runs through May 5, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 3 (no evening performances on Saturdays), and Sundays at 6 at the Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue on the third Floor (381-9333).  Water and bagged snacks for $1.00. www.raicestheatrecompany.com

Runtime: Two hours including one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Written, directed, and performed by various members of the Raíces ensemble, the ten mini-musicals depict mostly universal situations such as bad breakups or issues between family and friends. Of the two particularly Hispanic stories, one illustrated a moment in Puerto Rican history and the other introduced us to “Padrinos de Boda” (untranslatable, but essentially a special set of godparents for a young married couple). Accompanied by a three-person ensemble, the singing, acting, and overall energy will leave you either feeling proud that you are Latin or wishing you were.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Whether on stage as an actor, or director, or both for several of the one-acts, you could tell that the entire evening was created under the watchful eye and firm hand of company Co-founder and Artistic Director Victoria Pérez. The woman is a force, I tell you, no matter where she directs, but as DESDE EL PUENTE (From the Bridge) is named after her late father’s radio show, there’s a special quality of “la familia” that this particularly tight ensemble exudes. In the program she addresses her late father: “Thank you Papi. We did it! 8 actors, 8 writers, 7 composers, 4 directors, 3 musicians, 3 designers, 1 stage manager, 1 music director, 1 artistic director … only one RAÍCES THEATRE COMPANY.”

According to Panarama Hispano News the musical styles include “salsa, merengue, plena, buleria, bolero, hip hop, tango and bachata, to name a few.” Accompanied by Music Director Kevin Doyle at the keyboard; Rafael J. Pérez, guitar and percussion, and Sara Rodríguez, guitar, flute, and percussion, all very accomplished musicians, the evening starred, in alphabetical order, Steve Brachmann, Lissette DeJesús, Alejandro Gabriel Gómez, Rolando E.  Gómez, Alexia Guzmán, Smirna Mercedes-Pérez, Maria Pérez-Gómez, and Victoria Pérez.

The musicals, in the order presented, were:

EL CLOSET MAGICO (The Magic Closet) by Maria Pérez-Gómez, with music and lyrics by Adrian Güadalupe and Maria Pérez-Gómez, directed by Victoria Pérez finds a mother comforting her daughter with a family tradition about an ordinary closet that with imagination turns into the place of adventures.

ES MI VOZ (It’s my voice) by Lissette DeJesús, with music and lyrics by Sara Rodríguez directed by Maria Pérez-Gómez is about a songwriter who has let others sing but now takes charge of her own success and feelings of empowerment.

PADRINOS DE BODA (literally “Groomsmen” but more “Godparents of the wedding couple”) is by Anthony Alcocer and features music by Moshe Shulman and lyrics by Juli Vashavsky directed by Lisette DeJesús.  At the marriage of an Anglo and a Latina, a uniquely Hispanic tradition of a set of Godparents for the adult couple is revealed. It’s rather autobiographical, in a distaff way, and a bit long. If I were bilingual I would have been thinking: “veces menos es más” (sometimes less is more).

PLENA CAUTIVA (Completely Captive) with book, music, and lyrics all by Dewel Pérez, directed by Victoria Pérez has more music coming from five people that I’ve heard in a long time, and they were using only four percussion instruments. Impressive. The jokes had the Spanish speakers in the audience doubled over in laughter. Certainly the most “organic” and least “theater-y” play of the evening, while everyone was good, damn, who knew that Smirna Mercedes had that voice? ¡Increíble!

LLEGO LA HORA (The hour arrives) with book by María Pérez-Gómez and Victoria Pérez, music & lyrics by Adrian Güadalupe, Smirna Mercedes, María Pérez-Gómez, and original rap by Alejandro Gómez, directed by Ingrid Córdova comes in two parts: Part I just before intermission and Part II just after, where, cleverly, the interruption is part of the show. With made-up “sponsors” whose sales pitches were delivered in a syrupy “radio voice” it’s a Latinx send-up of the television show “The Bachelorette.” Here, a very reluctant young woman is asked to choose one of her three potential “dates” – a soulful Spanish singer, an obnoxious rapper, and a goofy musician – and, when the hour arrives, there’s only one obvious choice.

JUST IN TIME, with book by Alejandro Gómez, melody and lyrics by Daniel Williams, orchestration and arrangement by Kevin Doyle, directed by María Pérez-Gomez will be a familiar story to most guys about two childhood buddies now in their twenties, one focused on getting married and one focused on pursuing his career, who have drifted apart but reclaim their friendship just in time through music.

GOOD NIGHT PUTO (puto is the masculine for whore, but similar to f*** or f***ing in English, it’s a word that has many uses and meanings) by Alexia Guzmán with music and lyrics Blaise Mercedes, directed by Ingrid Córdova. A young woman, in the thrall of a selfish boyfriend, benefits from the “tough love” of her two female friends.

SIN PALABRAS (Speechless) by Victoria Pérez with music by Lilliangina Quiñones and lyrics by Victoria Pérez and Lilliangina Quiñones, directed by Lissette DeJesús, is, like PLENA CAUTIVA, quite organic, with duets punctuating the argument between a married couple who have suffered a significant loss and don’t know how to work around it.

DON PEDRO Y YO (Don Pedro and I) by Rolando M. Gómez, Maria Pérez- Gómez and Victoria Pérez with music and lyrics by Alejandro Gómez, Rolando E. Gómez, Jose Rafael López Figueroa and Victoria Pérez, directed by Ingrid Córdova  presents the story of Puerto Rican freedom fighter Pedro Albizu Campos and the sugar cane harvesters’ struggle for social justice. With a large cast and the Puerto Rican flag held aloft at the end, it was the right choice for the tenth play.

Kudos (Prestigio) by the way, to Stage Manager Julieana Guash and her crew for incredibly quick scene changes and impressive costume changes between plays. Very much appreciated.

Some observations by this non-Spanish speaker: The fourth edition of DESDE EL PUENTE seemed a little harder to follow than the previous series of straight plays because the singing paused the action and took away some of the visual cues.

Also, this musical edition reminded me again of how “romance” (whether translated as romantic love or high adventure) is so much more compelling in a romance language (e.g. French, Italian, or Spanish).

When some of the songs were sung in both Spanish and then repeated in English, I was reminded of many times watching Italian grand opera, where the translation of some beautiful aria reveals that what sounds so angelic is actually quite pedestrian. Or, if you don’t like opera, think of Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye.” Isn’t it so much better in his native Italian? And, in Spanish, doesn’t “Te amo, querida” sound so much better than “I love you, dear?”

In the end, though, even if you are not bi-lingual, if you love the sound of Latin music, you will love DESDE EL PUENTE, musical 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!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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