BWW Review: KISS MY AZTEC! at La Jolla Playhouse Isn't Afraid To Rewrite History
KISS MY AZTEC! is both a title and sassy reply in this revisionist musical tale about the Aztecs, and all those uninvited Spaniards that keep arriving and offers an entertaining, and energetic spoof on Latinx history now playing at The La Jolla Playhouse.
Narrated by Tolima (Maria-Christina Oliveras), a native who has the ability to do some magic the story follows the Aztec people as they rise up against those unwanted invaders from Spain who are enslaving their people and stealing their gold. Colombina (Yani Marin) is the daughter of the leader El Jaguar Negro (Chad Carstarphen) and dreams of going into battle by his side and bringing victory to her people. Even though this feminist has the skills and the drive to be a great warrior she's told to attend to more womanly duties. An instruction she takes as a challenge and sings a defiant "Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do" in response.
Meanwhile, the gentle Pepe (Joél Pérez) is an artist who is trying to avoid going into battle, preferring to perform his sock puppet comedy (one named Machu and the other Picchu) and trying to win the affections of Colombina. When they find that their soldiers are marching into a battle missing a key resource they plot to get inside the citadel to steal it and help win the battle.
In the citadel the leader of the Spanish Viceroy Rodrigo (Al Rodrigo) is trying to shore up his power while also managing his unruly children, the scheming Fernando (Zachary Infante) and the willful Pilar (Desireé Rodriguez) who are trying to oppose his every instruction.
Both Marin and Pérez are winning leads, and bring lots of comedic talent and good voices to their roles. They steal the show with their duet "Chained Melody" in the second act.
Carstarphen has a great number with the inspiring "Make the Impossible Possible", and is very funny as Reymundo, the Spanish Cardinal who is also in cahoots and in bed with Fernando. Rodrigo as the villainous Viceroy is a worthy fairytale villain with his dramatic cape flourishes and dastardly plots of marrying off her daughter for his own power gain.
Rodriguez stands out with a song "Dark Meat" plotting how to ruin her father's plot to marry her off and to expand her sexual conquests at the same time. Infante is excellent as the calculating Fernando but steals the show as the Spanish Sebastian looking for a new bride in "New Girl, New World."
The story is a fun folklore fantasy that entertains as it touches upon issues that still resonate today. Written by John Leguizamo and Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone this musical co-production between the La Jolla Playhouse and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre has a feverish energy, and biting commentary that you would expect from that collaboration.
The hallmarks of Leguizamo's comedic style have clearly made it into the show; it's funny, high energy, bold and brash, deliberately challenging, as well as a bit unwieldly. At over 2 hours there are times it feels unfocused and meandering and it would be a sharper production if it was edited a bit more.
There is an attempt to create a language hybrid infused with modern, hip hop, slang, and Elizabethan language that is effective but could benefit from not ending in so many words in "ist" or "ith." After a while it starts to feel more forced than it needs to as the show goes on. (There is also plenty of adult language and situations for those who may find that offensive.)
Music by Benjamin Velez, and lyrics by David Kamp, Velez, and Leguizamo have created genre-hopping song infused with salsa, jazz, hip-hop, and more. It's a fitting mix for a show about forced integration of diametrically opposed forces that the show doesn't fit any one musical style.
Scenic design and costume design by Clint Ramos blends the contemporary with the industrial set allowing cast to climbs and utilize the varying heights, with costumes that range from fully historical costume to more modern uses of leather, denim, and more.
KISS MY AZTEC! is very spirited, and entertaining musical that explores the past to help us navigate the future with plenty of laughs.
Photo Credit: photo courtesy of photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/ Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre