BWW Review: Tiempo Libre's Music is the Star of Artist Rep's World Premiere Musical CUBA LIBRE
You know when you hear your favorite song and you know that everything is going to be all right? That's what it's like watching CUBA LIBRE, Artists Rep's bilingual world premiere musical starring the music of three-time Grammy-nominated Cuban band Tiempo Libre.
CUBA LIBRE is the story of a man caught between worlds -- the Cuba where he grew up under the repressive rule of Fidel Castro and the United States where he found fame and fortune as a musician. It's a memory play, set up as a flashback, loosely based on the story of Tiempo Libre's Jorge Gomez, who wrote the music and lyrics for the musical. And a big, flashy musical it is -- you can tell that the creative team, which includes some Broadway veterans, has the Great White Way in its sights.
First for the positives. The music -- oh wow the music! It's high-energy Latin-beat-filled awesomeness. Tiempo Libre is onstage doing their thing through the whole show. You will be dancing in your seat (and if you can get there fast enough, on stage at the end). The dancing -- double-wow! Maija Garcia's choreography and the lithe, long-legged dance ensemble will make you wish you were tall and graceful and had taken dance classes. Also the production. Like I said, this is a big, flashy musical with aspirations far beyond the Winningstad. Multimedia presentations, a moveable multilevel set -- fun!
There are also a few not-quite-ready-for-primetime elements. Namely, some pieces of the story. It's a compelling tale of following your dreams -- Alonso leaves Cuba (and his mother and the woman he loves) to pursue his music and a new life in the U.S. But it's also a bit jumbled. It's unclear exactly why the show is presented as a flashback. The storyline of Alonso's relationship with his American girlfriend, Annie, doesn't really add anything. I think it's supposed to show how torn he is between the reality of the present and his powerful memories of the past, but the Old World-New World conflict is better exemplified in the ideological chasm between Alonso and his mother. Also, we never find out what happened to Lisandra, the love of Alonso's life who he leaves in Cuba, so that feels unresolved.
The place of politics in the story is also a bit unclear -- is it just providing context or is the intent for the piece to make some sort of political commentary? If the latter, what's it saying?
But these things don't change the fact that you should go see CUBA LIBRE. First, there are several really fabulous scenes, like one in which Alonso barters his way into a new trumpet and the dance segment with Alonso and Lisandra's grandmother. Second, it's your chance to see a great band live on stage. It's also your chance to see the first production of a show that may one day debut on Broadway, and then you can say you knew it when. Finally, this is a huge undertaking for Artists Rep and a huge accomplishment for Portland theatre -- both of which are very worth supporting. Oh, and did I mention the dancing?
CUBA LIBRE runs through November 15. For tickets, visit www.artistsrep.org.
Photo Credit: Owen Carey