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4 Guys, A Lady And a Lot of Music

Teatro Visión sings its way through Hispanic Heritage in a romantic revue

By Marianne Messina

ON A second stage flanked by cardboard palm trees, the orchestra, with keyboardist Dolores Duran-Cefalu directing, opens up the lively Latin music revue that acts as a frame for 4 Guys Named José ... and Una Mujer Named María, now playing at Teatro Visión. On a stage beneath the orchestra, the four Josés perform from four distinct styles representing (often through stereotype) the Hispanic heritage of four locales—the haughty crooning troubadour of Cuba (Martin Lewis), the fiery salsan of Puerto Rico (David Zubiria), the hyperhappy Mexican (Isai Centeno) and the smoldering Dominican (Victor Ballesteros).

During a snow storm in Nebraska these four transplants are putting together a musical show and reminiscing about their native lands when they all find themselves courting their fill-in singer María (Natalie Amaya, with a piquant blend of charm and sass). As each guy tries to outdo the others in unhinged hips and lovelorn tributes, the group goes through a retrospective of "crossover" Latin music. "Ba-ba-loo," croons José Cubano, riffing on Desi Arnaz. And taking turns caricaturing their respective national celebrities, the Josés continue through a list of 20th-century greats: Tito Puente, Richie Valens, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin.

María gets it all rolling from under the fruit-tower headpiece of Carmen Miranda (costumes by Gloria Grandy). Tossing off the prepared cheat sheets the Josés have handed her, Maria sneaks in her own asides, which make her numbers the most fun—like when she goes off on her favorite topic, men. Maria's just been jilted, and she isn't feeling too bullish about love, romance or men in general. Her wayward attitude adds humorous balance to the syrupy romantic advances of the Josés. Act 1 ends with a strong audience-participation number stemming from María's man troubles that has everyone belting out "Mentirosos!" and "Liars!"

Amaya's pleasing rich voice and dimpled smile keep it light and amusing, but without María's love woes and absent the up-tempo ensemble numbers, Act 2 eases into a slow slumber. In a movie, as the four Josés sing one somnolent song after another, this would be where two lovers on some moonlit tropical beach share their dreams for a better world to the sound of lazy, lapping waves—except without the lovers. It gives you time to notice that three of the male singers of the last act's wonderfully rich harmonies aren't soloists and that the band doesn't have a high end—consisting as it does of drums, percussion, bass and keys. Duran-Cefalu's playing is impressive but undershowcased, and with the keyboard generally busy holding down rhythms, horns are sadly missed. Still, Delores Prida, who wrote book and lyrics and whose work often concerns women's issues, would have been delighted to see a woman heading the orchestra and a woman (Kelly Fasman) on drums.

It's apparent that Teatro Visión put a lot of work into tight choreography (Melinda Moreno-Miller directing the countless synchronized routines). And though the guys don't exactly have the high-risk hips and studied abandon that make the Ricky Martins of the world so hot, they keep the ensemble numbers neat and honest. The show has some great sight gags—toppling palm trees, a silver moon flapped open like a fan. And the last act can claim the comedy bit that scored highest on the laugh meter, a contextually funny "Ave María." Not one of Prida's more thoughtful projects, 4 Guys works as an ambitious tribute to styles and eras.


4 Guys Named José ... and Una Mujer Named María, a Teatro Visión production, plays Thursday-Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 2pm at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Friday's performance is in Spanish. Tickets are $8-$17. (408.272.9926)


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From the December 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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