Zapata! The Musical debuted last night at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and I was there to witness the event. I had been looking forward to seeing the show for the last month, ever since that exciting night at a pre production rehearsal with the choreographer, Luis Salgado, and the dance captain, Grisel Pren Monje. As excited as I was, I had no idea what to expect. The script was still in the works four weeks ago, and I wasn’t sure how the writers would make it all work. I would hear snippets from Grisel here and there about the dance sequences, but as I sat in the theater waiting for the lights to dim, surrounded by other members of the dance company, I was worried that I was going to be underwhelmed.
I wasn’t. I was impressed.
The show, according the about page on the website, “tells the story of Emiliano Zapata, hero of the Mexican revolution, who appears in the 21st century to show a disgruntled member of “Occupy Wall Street” the proper way to fight for a better world. A magnificent love story set against the cinematic backdrop of the revolution. Not since Steinbeck’s VIVA ZAPATA! has there been a story so moving, so appropriate for all times. Rock meets mariachi, a musical combination never seen before on the Great White Way.”
It was a compelling and inspiring musical. There were parts of the story and some dialogue that seemed a little convoluted, especially the scenes concerning Tom, the visitor from present day. There were a couple of little kinks that needed to be worked out on the technical side, and there some dance sequences that could have been a smidgen tighter. But those little details were overshadowed by the incredible performances of the main characters: Enrique Acevedo as Emiliano, Maria Eberline as his wife Josefa, Andrew Call as Tom/Eufemio (Zapata’s brother), and Natalie Toro as Josefa’s mother Espejo. Toro was especially impressive with her passionate and powerful voice. I was moved beyond words when she sang “The Endless Night”, capturing the beautiful ranchera style, near the end of the first act. I didn’t think anything could top Acevedo singing “I’d Rather Die A Thousand Deaths” a few scenes earlier, which left me awe-struck, but Toro’s “The Endless Night” was utterly riveting.
The rest of the cast was delightful, as well. And I thoroughly enjoyed the dancing! The cast was unfamiliar with traditional Mexican folklorico, with the exception of Grisel, but they did a fantastic job! Luis included footwork wherever he could, cleverly taking advantage of the various rhythms, but like all good choreographers, he focused on what was feasible for the folklorico novices: The ladies utilized their skirts, giving the impression of folklorico. Luis also added elements of the different regions rather than focusing on one area so that more aspects of Mexico’s culture would be represented, most noticeably during the wedding scene.
One element I found interesting was the role of the Curandera, who was dressed and danced in a style that invoked the ancient Aztecs. At first, I wasn’t sure what exactly her role was, but it became clear to me during the intermission when my companions explained that a Curandera is a healer. The Curandera, played by Grisel, was present during many pivotal scenes, including the transitions from present to past and back again. She was present when the story began with Tom, who was in a desperate situation. It was the Curandera who brought Tom healing through the story of Zapata, as he learned to “fight for what he loves, not fight against what he hates”.
I lost myself in the story and the way it was told through the acting, songs, and dance. Zapata! The Musical blended Mexican culture with musical theater. They actually seemed to work quite well together. It was thrilling to see the culture I love portrayed on the stage as I had never seen it before. It gets a little agenda-heavy at the end, but overall it was a great show!! The cast, crew, and everyone involved with Zapata! The Musical did an amazing job, with a special shout-out to Luis Salgado and Grisel Pren Monje*! I just wish I could buy the soundtrack!
For those in the New York area, you still have an opportunity to watch Zapata! The Musical this week! There are two performances on Friday, one on Saturday, and one on Sunday. (See here for more information.)
*Excellent, excellent job, Luis and Grisel!!!