KPBS AIRDATE: May 06, 2005
Luis Valdez saunters back onstage after a two-decade hiatus. It’s Valdez Redux in “Corridos Remix, A Musical Fusion of Ballads Beyond Borders” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. The music is a multicultural mix of folksong narratives. But the story is pure Valdez. A patriarch is trying to preserve his cultural history — and keep it in the family. Offstage, the legendary Father of Chicano Theater, founder of the groundbreaking El Teatro Campesino, is passing the dramatic baton to his children, all of whom are in the family business. Kinan Valdez collaborated with his father in this remake of the original “Corridos” that won a Peabody Award when it aired on PBS in 1987.
Now, he’s directing his father, who stars in the updated, funkified new show that’s a delicious mix of Valdez Senior’s ‘60s mentality and his son’s 21st century sensibilities. Luis plays a stuffy, academic ethnomusicologist, who’s collected a literal trunkload of international corridos, dramatic stories typically related in song, dance, action and often, comedy, usually referring to actual historical events, and told from the perspective of the lower class or underdog. El Maestro, the teacher/master, is trying to pass the heritage on to his new-found and reluctant granddaughter, a hip, “transnational troubadour” who looks to the future, not the past. They’re connected in their pain, though, and their search for the long-lost junkie punk rocker, Eddie Gallo, her father, his son. Mostly, they bond musically, retelling old Mexican tales and this morning’s narcocorridos, sharing stories from Asia, Africa and Latin America. The music ranges from Dylan to Woody Guthrie, the Beatles to Rage Against the Machine. Mostly, the mix works. At all times, the passion is palpable, as is the tragedy and universality of the immigrant experience.
Kinan’s direction is terrific, energetic and inventive, abetted by Javier Velasco’s imaginative choreography. The killer 4-piece band, under the direction of keyboardist Fred Lanuza, sounds like a huge ensemble, with 13 instruments adding spice to the mix. And the chameleon cast is outstanding, with Luis Valdez a quietly charismatic presence, counterbalanced by the amazing Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, a multi-talented, triple-threat knockout who sings, acts, dances and plays fiddle and slidewhistle, all the while lighting up the stage with her sexy, electric presence.
The narrative thread is a bit tenuous, and breaking the fourth wall doesn’t always work. Some songs don’t really mesh, and the FaMuLan sequence seems misplaced and over-extended. But quibbles aside, the show is irresistible. You’ll be clapping along, and maybe, if the Valdez family has its way, your consciousness will be raised along with your spirits.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.