BWW Review: Migguel Anggelo Enthralls with LATINXOXO at Joe's Pub
As an artist that is well established in the New York Cabaret scene, audiences know that a Migguel Anggelo performance is guaranteed to entertain and enthrall. Last week, the house at Joe's Pub was more vociferous in their anticipation and adulation of Anggelo than they were almost four and a half years ago when I last reviewed him. Then, he was using his platform to explore the immigrant experience while promoting his sophomore album. Now, with LATINXOXO, he strikes a different chord through sharing his yearning for acceptance and love from his father, who died by electrocution while changing a lightbulb on his Venezuelan cattle ranch.
LATINXOXO - with a book by J. Julian Christopher, musical direction and arrangements by Jaime Lozano, directed and developed by Srda Vasiljević, and costumes by Ryan Park - begins with Anggelo making a grand entrance donning dazzling religious iconography drag evoking images of The Virgin Mary and her apparitions like Venezuela's Virgin of Coromoto or Mexico's Virgin of Guadalupe while singing Consuelo Velázquez's bolero "Bésame Mucho," which holds the distinction of being the most sung and recorded Mexican song in the world. Flirting his way through the audience as he makes his way to the stage, Anggelo as virgin earns all the smiles, giggles, and laughs the artist expects before taking a more serious turn with Anggelo explaining that his father once said that he would rather have a whore as a daughter than a homosexual son. Little did he know, Anggelo was ready to be both!
Anggelo takes us on a journey through the tribulations of first love, clinging to a man willing to give him more than just the love his father won't, signing "Silencio" (Rafael Hernàndez). Then, moving into a period of sexual liberation after his first romance ends, Anggelo channels Madonna as Virgin Mary better than Lady Gaga ever did while performing a show-stopping mash-up of "Bad Romance" and "Alejandro" (Lady Gaga and RedOne). As exhilarating and ultimately formative these sexual and romantic experiences were for a young Anggelo, they are all lightly dusted with sadness. Dancing around the stage and filling the entire room with his infectious charm and charisma, Anggelo - as performer - lets the audience see how these rebellious behaviors were done not only to discover himself but to fill the void that the lack of his father's love created through a captivating performance of "El Rey" (José Alfredo Jiménez) and a sensual mash-up of "Fever" (Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley), sung in Spanish, and "Oye Como Va" (Tito Puente).
With a change in costume and by removing some makeup, Anggelo shifts from virgin to bullfighter as he talks about his father's (and, by association, the larger Latino community's) rigid and stereotyped views on masculinity. We learn that, in his father's eyes, a bullfighter only became a matador after killing a bull, which becomes the metaphor that informs his emotionally riveting performance of "F**k You" (Anggelo, Lozano, Christopher), which ends with Anggelo letting the audience know he watched his own father die. Turning on a dime from anger to devastating tenderness, Anggelo sings a heartbreaking rendition of "Make You Feel My Love" (Bob Dylan), which perfectly showcases the wide range of emotions experienced when a young boy witnesses the death of both the man he looked up to and the man he could never make happy.
Across the remainder of the LATINXOXO, Anggelo walks the audience through how he wrestled with his identity (whether it be as a Latino, a Venezuelan, a gay man, or any combination of these), his sense of home and place, and his love and hatred for his father. Hitting on these themes he delivers powerful renditions of "La Rosa y El Sauce (The Rose and The Willow)" (Carlos Guastavino), "Piensa en Mi" (Agustín Lara and Maria Teresa Lara), and "Piel Canela" (Bobby Capó).
All of this leads to the pivotal moments when Anggelo chooses to love his father and proudly accept all of the positive aspects of his father that he sees in himself. This revelatory moment is perfectly captured with a stirring performance of "The Mirror" (Anggelo, Lozano, and Christopher). From this place of joy and love, Anggelo is able to transcend the tumultuous relationship he had with his father and let go of the negativity that weighed him down. With an uplifted heart, Anggelo sings "XO" ( Beyoncé, Ryan Tedder, and "The Dream" Nash), switching back and forth from English to Spanish lyrics. Then, in closing, he reflects on herding cattle with his father, a favorite memory of his. Together, they would sing "Tonada del Cabrestero" (Símon Díaz) as they drove the cattle up the mountains to eat fresh grass, so he leaves the audience with a quiet and softly sung version of that tune.
Currently, there are no announced future performances of LATINXOXO. Hopefully, additional performances will pop up, as it is an expertly crafted evening of cabaret that tells an impactful story about how the love from our parents - or the lack thereof - profoundly affects our sense of identity and belonging. Presented in a nonlinear fashion, the narrative of LATINXOXO is delightfully engaging. The show also featured two unrecorded songs by Anggelo, so one can only suspect that a third album from the singer/songwriter is forthcoming.