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BWW Review: ENGLISH WITH AN ACCENT at GALA Hispanic Theatre

Dynamic performance piece from Migguel Anggelo marked by energetic dancing.

BWW Review: ENGLISH WITH AN ACCENT at GALA Hispanic Theatre

One may never know what to expect on April Fool's Day, but a one-night-only performance by a Venezuelan-American artist at the GALA Hispanic theatre was certainly one of them.

Part stirring concert, part dynamic dance experience, part one-man rock opera about the experience of U.S. immigration, Migguel Anggelo's "English with an Accent" was certainly something a sold-out D.C. audience fully embraced.

A co-presentation by Washington Performing Arts and GALA Hispanic Theatre, it was the rare show presented in English at GALA, albeit as the title will remind you, with an accent.

Anggelo, 49, is a dynamic, diminutive performer with a disarming style and bottle-blonde hair who can keep up with the supercharged, energetic 10-member dance troupe that's busy every minute, yet can hold the show with his narrative songs, sometimes presented in a surprising falsetto.

The story is a common one - a personal tale of the struggle of immigrating to this country, the loneliness, the distain given by others, the maddening legal and monetary requirements, the exhilaration of making it finally through all the hoops.

It was, in fact, the basis of another narrative dance piece on the same stage last fall, Edwin Aparicio's auto-biographical "Salvador," which was part of the GALA's Fuego Flamenco Festival.

But that one was pure dance - and indeed, this one could have been presented that way, given the imaginative, eye-popping choreography by Avihal Haham, who was also director.

But Anggelo's tuneful score, which he created and co-wrote with musical director and arranger Jaime Lozano, makes it all the more compelling. The songs aren't quite the stuff of classical opera or standard Broadway, but more along the lines of theatrical rock that someone like David Bowie might have devised.

It's no surprise that "English with an Accent" began life as a concept album - Anggelo's third such release.

In it, he compares the immigrants journey to the chrysalis of a butterfly.

"They say I'm just a worm, but I know I'm a caterpillar," he declares early on.

He sings it but it's also acted out. He's first seen inching away as a worm on the wide open GALA stage, bare from wall to wall to make room for the piece. When he declares he's more like a caterpillar, the 10 young, diverse dancers quickly line up behind him like segments on that insect to effectively complete the picture.

The fast-moving, succinct "English with an Accent" has a number of memorable tableaus, from a ribbon that engulfs and supports him that is perhaps analogous to red tape, to a stretched piece of white fabric from which his head pops up. When he throws fistfuls of money into the air a couple of times it's clear the costs of paying fees and lawyers add up (and how quickly they clean up those bills each time they're scattered!).

The only thing that doesn't work as well is a segment with clown noses meant to be a commentary on the Trump administration. The satiric intent seems a bit dated since that period seems thankfully behind us.

The remarkable agility and athleticism of the dancers, who at times resemble a regimented burst of energy as in a cheerleading competition, are relentless throughout, and are critical to the work's success.

They are: Orla Baxendale, Reed Tankersley, Mathilde Guerrero, Nathaniel Hunt, Kody Jauron, Jordan Lombardi, Daisia Pulls, Maia Schechter, Shota Sekiguchi and Ian Spring.

But none of it would be happening without Anggelo, born Miguel Angelo Pinto Martínez in Valencia, Venezuela and involved in musical theater since he was a young man, landing the title role in a traveling company of "Pinocchio" in his native company. After performing at several theater companies in Caracas, he traveled to Germany, where his grandfather was born, to study voice in Cologne. Then he traversed Latin America for years as part of the cast of "Fama El Musical."

In "English With an Accent," he sings "I watched the army kill my people," and repeated his desire to come to the United States. Once here on a tourist visa he was confronted "Where are you from?" and "Go back," But eventually his character reaches his dream - as the artist did in real life just recently.

Based now in Brooklyn, Anggelo's very limited tour of "English with an Accent" was booked to play just once in the nation's capital. It's also scheduled at New York's Lincoln Center in November.

Once word gets out about the work, though, it will likely fly elsewhere, like the monarch it endeavors to become.

Running time: About one hour, with no intermission.

Photo credit: Migguel Anggelo standing, and company in "English With an Accent." Photo by Teresa Castracane.

"English With an Accent" was performed April 1 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, in collaboration with Washington Performing Arts. More information about the GALA season can be found online.

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