BABALU: Celebrating The Music Of Desi Arnaz
My dear reader, when I interviewed Lucie Arnaz, she spoke of her father's journey through life. I'd like to start this column with my journey, not through life but just through last night. It would be too easy to start this review with "I fell for BABALU." I didn't. Indeed, upon entering the Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht, I began to black out. My legs were buckling beneath me and I was going down. Brett, my theater going companion and other half, kept me from passing out on the floor. Frankly, I think we were both much more embarrassed about me blacking out at BABALU's opening night, than our concern for any health issue I may have been suffering.
I've been to the doctor very recently; I am in tip top condition. I shall go to the doctor again, as this was not the first time I had one of these near blackout spells. I felt better and better after we were seated in the theater. Thus far, Brett and my doctor have attributed these near fainting bouts with my intense dieting and lack of consuming enough food. Anyone dieting, being told they are not eating enough, well, those are just great words to hear. Of course, I am still embarrassed by what occurred and what I may have said to anyone, old friends or new, on the way to our seats. Anyway, kindly do not inundate me with flowers, and get well wishes. I feel fine this morning, and I assure you I shall feel fine for quite a long time to come.
BABALU was a fine night at the theater. I am not positive yet if it is a revue, a nightclub act, or a Broadway musical trying to find its way. Filled with the music of Desi Arnaz, and a few others, this show is a love letter from Lucie Arnaz to her much adored father, Desi. She talks a lot about her father, sings and dances to music from his career and spends the performance as a charming host.
Lucie looks beautiful, and her singing is wonderful. She appears to be having a fine time, and certainly wants the audience to have a great time. However, as the creative driving force behind this show, and as its lead performer, Ms. Arnaz seems to have left her warmth at home. One thing we know about Desi Arnaz; he was a sweet, loving and warm gentleman. Perhaps too often that warmth was directed at a woman other than his wife. Shame on him, but then again, he was not unlike millions of men before him and we can be sure, millions to follow. If Lucie was able to ‘warm up a bit,' perhaps the whole show would have taken on an aura of love and celebration for Desi Arnaz.
Rather than relying on the show's host, it is Raul Esparza, who gets the cheers and it is Raul performing the songs of Mr. Arnaz, that are the highlights of BABALU. His star has been ascending for a number of years now, and Raul's performance in BABALU is not one that will soon be forgotten. He sings with joy, passion, and ecstasy and he carries us along on this riveting ride.
Raul gets to share the ‘pattern portions' of BABALU with Ms. Arnaz. There are many patter moments, when Lucie and Raul are telling us about Desi's life. In addition to being historically questionable (there are books attributing much of Desi Arnaz's contributions in music and television, to others. In Jess Oppenheimer's book, he reveals himself to be the genius behind Mr. Arnaz's feats) surely, a more entertaining way could have been found for these segments as opposed to Ms. Arnaz and Mr. Esparza standing center stage and telling us the ‘Desi Arnaz Story.' Were this a musical, I would encourage them to set the story to music and lyrics with appropriate choreography.
Ramon Del Barrio, BABALU's choreographer, is the one creative force who seemed never to lose his way, with joy, passion and spirit, that is part of the legacy of Desi Arnaz. Mr. Del Barrio does great work with Richard Amaro and Jennette Delgado. The show kicks into high gear when Mr. Del Barrio gets to strut his stuff with his principal dancers. One only wishes that Ramon had more dancers and more opportunity to whip us into a frenzy with his spot on choreography.