MARIA DE BUENOS AIRESREGIONAL PREMIERE
Music by ?stor Piazzolla and Lyrics by Horacio Ferrer
Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Direction and Musical Staging by Adam Adolfo
Musical Direction by Josh Bradford
Assistant Direction and Stage Management by April Wilson
Associate Direction and Choreography by Elise Lavallee
Scenic Design by Oliver Luke
Lighting Design by Michael Cole
Sound Design by Adam Adolfo
Costume Design by Justin Kailer
Makeup Design by Oliver Luke and Adam Adolfo
CAST (in order of appearance)
El Duende - JP Cano
Fr. Luce - Wes Cantrell
El Payador - Keith J. Warren
Maria - Grace Neeley
Alma - Lorens Portalatin
Graciana - Frieda Austin
Dolores - Hayley Mansfield
Luisa - Caradee Cline
Toro - Dan Westfield
Arsino - James Edward Vargas
Raul - Shannon Beacham
Piano - Josh Bradford
Percussion - Evan Dabbs
Cello - Katie Dunlap
Accordion - Gregory Fainstien
Violin - James Hiler
Guitar - Marc Rosenberg
Flute - Aveion Walker
Reviewed Performance: 5/13/2012
Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Maria de Buenos Aires is nothing short of true beauty on a live stage. The entire production is a wonderful marriage of song, music, dance, poetry and movement that never stops. It wraps you tightly in its story and never lets you go even after leaving the theatre. When a piece of art does that to you, it is a true success and this production is nothing less than that- a true success.
Maria de Buenos Aires is a tango operetta which premiered at the Sala Planeta in Buenos Aires in May 1968. The surreal plot centers on a prostitute in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the second half taking place after her death. The characters include Maria (and after her death, the Shadow of Maria), a singer of payadas, various members of the Buenos Aires underworld, a poet narrator who is also a goblin-like duende, several marionettes under his control, and a circus of psychoanalysts. Several elements of the libretto suggest parallels between Maria and Mary, the mother of Jesus (in Spanish, Maria) or to Jesus himself.
While certainly not in the narrow sense an opera ballet, because the dance is tango rather than classical ballet, it falls within the tradition of having set dance pieces integral to an operatic work.
Maria de Buenos Aires is seldom staged, though there are occasional concert performances often incorporating dance. Recent productions include the very successful Teatro di Capua production (2008) which has been produced in several theatres including the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia, Moscow (where it received two nominations in the Moscow Festival of the Golden Mask in 2009) and the 2010 Edinburgh Festival.
The wonderfully restored Rose Marine Theater is turned into many intimate locations on a fixed set. Entering the theatre immediately places you in the dark underworld of the time and the bordello itself. Light sounds of rain accent the two story set that includes an interior bar, lovely spiral staircase leading up to the hallway of "rooms" and a lovely outdoor location with a small table and streetlamp. The entire set in itself is a character in the presentation. Various times throughout the performance the stage transforms beautifully right before your eyes without one set piece moving. This simple, yet powerful choice in design and direction makes the production work wonderfully.
Direction and musical staging by Adam Adolfo is perfect. Mr. Adolfo uses the entire theatre as his canvas and paints his extraordinary cast into wonderful pictures on that canvas throughout the entire performance. His choices for each character are exact, with reason and purpose. He takes you on a rollercoaster ride of deep passion, life, death and belief by using the wonderful music and poetry of the play. Maria de Buenos Aires is known to be a difficult production to mount for a theatre yet Mr. Adolfo makes this one a blazing success!
Josh Bradford's musical direction is a masterpiece. He is given amazing talent and uses it to his advantage throughout every moment of the production. The music is extremely difficult and taxing yet Mr. Bradford manages to pull out the best in every one of his performers. Also acting as the pianist for the production in the seven piece orchestra, he professionally leads his musicians through the production's difficult music.
As for that orchestra' BRAVO! One of the first statements my guest at the performance said was how amazing the orchestra was. The music that comes from the small area off stage right is simply amazing. This small group fills the theatre with music that pulls you into a fierce world of Argentine passion, never once distracting from the action on stage. They are seamless and professional in every sense of the word.
There is not enough high praise I can give to Choreographer Elsie Lavallee! This is a non-stop production of dance and she has talented dancers to work with and exploits that talent with wondrous success. Maria de Buenos Aires is obviously the Argentine Tango yet Ms. Lavallee weaves it into modern dance styles, ballet and much, much more. She also uses the entire theatre, to place wonderfully executed dances. At one point in the production the dancers are on the floor in front of the stage, which is raised about 3 feet, and they beautifully dance from the stage to the floor and back again. It is remarkable, heart stopping and brilliant. There are many other dance moments of pure delight in this production you will just HAVE to see to believe!
Lighting design by Michael Cole is breathtaking. His choices of deep, rich colors, moving lighting and stark, blazing white lights are the cohesiveness that this production demands. Mr. Cole obviously delves deeply into the writing and music and puts an array of the most beautiful representations of both. Simply enough- visually stunning.
Oliver Luke's scenic design is right on track. His simple design adds the exact atmosphere the production requires. Nothing is over the top and nothing looks cheap or last-minute. His design also allows for seamless integration with the dance and staging in the production. It takes skill to work that closely with the choreographer to make it all work and Mr. Cole does just that.
Costume design by Justin Kailer excels in this production. Each character is represented splendidly ranging from the exotic and erotic to simple and untouched. His choices are perfect in design, functionality and style. There are some amazing things done within the costuming that I won't reveal but those concepts are also stunning.
A brilliant, extraordinary and talented ensemble of singers, actors and dancers are simply remarkable. The performance I viewed had no mistakes, confusion or insecurity from any of them. They are a tight knit team of professionals that make this production work without flaws and not one member of this ensemble out-shines the other.
JP Cano as El Duende keeps this production running smoothly. He commands the stage with his delivery, tells the story through wonderful movement and expression. He is beautiful, frightening, loving and heartfelt to watch. His character is extremely difficult and Mr. Cano handles it with ease.
Wes Cantrell playing Fr. Luce is wonderful to watch. His complicated character goes through many emotional turns and is delivered excellently. He makes perfect choices with his expression, vocals and dance. You are drawn into his character as he keeps you in the palm of his hand. This is perfect casting with a talented performer that will surely have great success in the future!
Grace Neeley's performance in the title role of Maria is superb. She has the most complicated character I believe I have seen on stage to date. There is no emotion, movement, expression or delivery that does not take you to the exact place it should. Ms. Neeley enraptures you at every moment yet never once takes away from the other performers around her. She is engaging and just remarkable in this role!
Keith J. Warren as El Payador and Lorens Portalatin as Alma execute their roles very well throughout the production. These two roles are integral yet need to play with a certain finesse. These two stunning actors do just that. Mr. Warren's stage presence is exacting and well done. Ms. Portalatin captures the essence of her character and never once fails in her execution.
The featured roles and ensemble dancers are simply amazing! Frieda Austin, Hayley Mansfield, Caradee Cline, Dan Westfield, James Edward Vargas and Shannon Beacham create stunning, technically executed visual aspects in this production. You are mesmerized every moment they are on stage. The artistic team compiles the perfect ensemble in these men and women. Without this extraordinary talent in the production, it would fail.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this production of Maria de Buenos Aires is transcending. I do not speak any Spanish, and all the dialogue, poetry and vocals are just that. Yet not once did it matter to me. I also looked around at the other patrons in the theatre to see their reactions. Many times they were LITERALLY on the edge of their seats. I briefly spoke with an older couple in the lobby afterwards and they also did not speak any Spanish. "I didn't need to", the wife told me. "What I just witnessed was pure love, passion and expression, and THAT didn't need to be in English."
I strongly urge everyone to take the time to visit North Fort Worth and get the opportunity to experience Maria de Buenos Aires. It is an amazing gem you don't want to miss and make no mistake, this is a powerful production!
Artes de la Rosa at the Rose Marine Theater
1440 N. Main Street, Ft. Worth, TX 76164
Production runs through May 27th, 2012
Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm
General admission tickets are $10.00-$18.00
To purchase tickets, contact the box office at 817-624-8333 or go online to www.artesdelarosa.org