Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of KISS MY AZTEC! at Berkeley Rep?

Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of KISS MY AZTEC! at Berkeley Rep?The world premiere of Kiss My Aztec! is currently running through July 14 at Berkeley Rep.

This fresh, irreverent musical comedy could only spring forth from the clever and culturally savvy mind of John Leguizamo (who seriously schooled Berkeley Rep audiences with Latin History for Morons). With an energetic musical fusion of salsa, Latin boogaloo, hip-hop, gospel, funk, and merengue, and an inspired mash-up of Elizabethan dialect and modern slang, Kiss My Aztec! celebrates, elevates, and commemorates Latinx culture.

European conquest? Hell, no! It may be the 16th century in Spanish-occupied Mesoamerica, but these Aztecs is woke. Led by the unlikely duo of Colombina (a fierce female warrior) and Pepe (a not-so-fierce clown), they mount a scrappy resistance against their Spanish oppressors-and somehow get entangled in the dysfunctional dynamics of the Spanish viceroy's bickering family. Will our heroes get conquistadored by whitey or win the day?

Kiss my Aztec!'s cast features: Angelica Beliard as "Ensemble," Chad Carstarphen as "El Jaguar Negro/Reymundo," Lauren Cox as "Swing/Associate Choreographer," Zachary Infante as "Fernando/Sebastian/Ensemble," Yani Marin as "Colombina," Jesús E. Martínez as "Captain Soldier / Ensemble," Maria-Christina Oliveras as "Tolima/Ensemble," Joél Pérez as "Pepe," Al Rodrigo as "Rodrigo/Ensemble," Desiree Rodriguez as "Pilar" and Richard Henry Ruiz as "Pierre Pierrot/Ensemble."

The creative team includes: John Leguizamo (Book/Lyricist), Tony Taccone (Book/Director), Benjamin Velez (Music/Lyricist/Arranger), David Kamp (Lyricist), Maija García (Choreographer), David Gardos (Music Supervisor), Simon Hale (Orchestrator), Wilson Torres (Percussion Arranger), Clint Ramos (Scenic/Costume Design), Alexander V. Nichols (Lighting Design), Jessica Paz (Sound Design), Amy Potozkin, CSA (Casting), Tara Rubin Casting (Casting), Madeleine Oldham (Dramaturg), Michael Suenkel (Production Stage Manager) and Megan McClintock (Assistant Stage Manager).

For tickets and more information about Kiss My Aztec!, tap here.

Let's check out what the critics thought...

Steve Murray, BroadwayWorld: The hardworking ensemble cast is solid through and through, not a weak link to be found. They're infused with the energy of working on an important project that has cultural significance while being fun as hell to perform. As the two leads, Yani Marin's sassy, feminist Columbina and Joel Perez's unwilling hero Pepe make an engaging combative couple. Told to stay home and out of battle, Columbina is having nothing to do with that and takes action into her very capable hands. Pepe would much rather entertain with his two sock puppets Machu and Pichu than become a hero, but his attraction to the beautiful Columbina is hard to overcome.

Karen D'Souza, The Mercury News: From the show's opening number "White People on Boats" to the cheeky finale about the world "getting browner," Aztec revels in a beyond-gaudy vibe that pivots from vulgar to the revolutionary. Take-no-prisoners sarcasm suffuses the world premiere musical, which mixes low-brow humor with high-minded ideas about the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish in 1560. Framed by hip-hop throw downs and graffiti art, this is Latinx history and culture seen through the post-modern prism of potty-mouthed stand-up comedy. The easily offended may well be taken aback by this naughty narrative of the new world.

Emily S. Mendel, Berkeleyside: For, after all, Kiss My Aztec! is at heart an old-fashioned comedy, with a Latin perspective, filled with lots of sight gags, set and costume changes, noise, and great music, like a brassy Broadway musical. Political correctness flies out the window between burlesquing the gay relationship between Fernando and his inquisitor, and Pilar's song, "Dark Meat," sung as she dreams of a Latin lover. All in good fun, but at times it felt a bit dated, nonetheless.

Marcus Crowder, Datebook: The consistently clever songs by Benjamin Velez (music, lyrics and arranger), David Kamp (lyrics) and Leguizamo (lyrics) move stealthily across the Afro-Latino musical diaspora incorporating hip-hop, reggaeton, salsa, Latin boogaloo, merengue and gospel, ingeniously matching styles to characters and situations. An onstage, six-piece live band skillfully navigates the variety of rhythmic styles.

Robert Sokol, San Francisco Examiner: Taccone, in his final production as artistic director, referees a tight ensemble of talented clowns, most of whom get spotlight moments. Richard Henry Ruiz generates freewheeling mayhem as the coca-addled political fixer Pierre Pierrot, and Zachary Infante spins fawning obsequiousness into seething comic gold as the scheming prince Fernando.

Marcus Crowder, San Francisco Chronicle: Composer Velez outfits characters with stylistically revealing songs - Pepe's signature "Punk-Ass Geek-A" is a poppy salsa and potential Spanish savior Sebastian (Infante again) slickly croons "New Girl, New World"as a glitzy pop plea, while Rodrigo has a laughably silky smooth ballad duet with a disguised Colombina on "Spooneth Me." There's as much sincere appreciation of the musical styles as there is winking at them. The songs push the plot revealing Pepe's romantic interest in Colombina, Sebastian's understanding of the impending marriage contract and Rodrigo's underlying insecurity.

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