Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Arrabal
American Repertory Theater
Review by Nancy Grossman

Also see Josh's review of The Bridges of Madison County


The Cast and Band
Photo by Gretjen Helene Photography
Arrabal, making its United States premiere at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, is a gorgeous, sensual show that tells its complicated political story through the media of music and dance. The coming-of-age tale of a young woman seeking the truth about her father who was "disappeared" by General Jorge Rafael Videla's military junta in Argentina in 1976, Arrabal replaces dialogue with choreography as the storytelling tool, imbuing the musical with passion and intensity which words cannot convey. Coupled with composer Gustavo Santaolalla's driving, eclectic music, played with great élan by Orquesta Bajofonderos, the theatrical dance stylings of co-choreographers Sergio Trujillo and Julio Zurita successfully serve the heart of John Weidman's book concept in an unspoken, universal language.

Trujillo is also the director and is responsible for the magnificent staging that is a feast for the eyes, challenging the audience to make visual quick cuts between moments happening left and right in real time. Much of the action is set in a tango club where patrons and musicians intermingle, dancers change partners frequently, and additional scenes play out in the office of the proprietor, El Puma. In fact, Riccardo Hernandez's scenic design expands the club from the stage to include the front rows of the Loeb Drama Center's orchestra section, where that portion of the audience is seated at café tables, and occasionally a couple of dancers venture out into the aisles. While not as all-encompassing as the theater's re-design for Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, Vincent Colbert's lighting, Peter McBoyle's sound, and Peter Nigrini's projection contribute to making the whole of the space feel immersed in the dark, steamy world of the shanty town, the streets, and the underground tango club of Buenos Aires.

Music director Alejandro Kauderer plays keyboards and leads four musicians who produce a sound that belies their small number. They are situated on a platform above the stage, accessed by a spiral staircase, yet often come down to the dance floor to perform. Julio Dominguez captivates with his violin, and Pablo Martin takes a solo turn in the spotlight, introducing us to the ronroco, an instrument with five courses of two-strings each, whose plaintive notes are similar to those of a mandolin. Patricio "Tripa" Bonfiglio plays the bandoneon, or concertina, which is an essential ingredient for the music of tango, and Luciano Coniglio handles guitar and vocals with brio.

The title character Arrabal is exquisitely danced by lithe and lovely Micaela Spina. She is an innocent eighteen-year-old when she embarks on a journey to discover the fate of the father she never knew. Rodolfo (Zurita) was a member of the resistance against Videla's junta and we see what transpired on the night he left his infant daughter with her Abuela (Marianella Massarotti), but Arrabal must travel to Buenos Aires to learn the truth from her father's friend, the club owner El Puma (Carlos Rivarola). There she meets the dashing, sexy Juan (Juan Cupini) and Nicole (Soledad Buss), a rival for his attention. One of the most riveting dances in the show is a raw, powerful, and even dangerous pas de deux performed by Cupini and Buss as the latter tries to maintain control of their partnership. When he switches off to tango with Spina, it is a contrast in style and emotion, shifting from rough and angry to sweeping and romantic.

Two other key players in the Buenos Aires scenes who look out for Arrabal are the sprite El Duende (rubber-limbed Mario Rizzo) and El Puma's woman, Berta (Valeria Celurso). The ensemble dancers are among the marvels of Arrabal as they play multiple roles. One moment they show their artistry in complex tango routines, then suddenly the men become soldiers of the regime, beating up protesters, or nefarious street thugs. The women don headscarves and house dresses to join Abuela as mothers silently parading in search of information about their missing sons. Their changing characters are always clearly expressed in movement and facial expressions, without benefit of words, and the colorful palette of costumes designed by Clint Ramos helps to define the range of identities.

Arrabal dramatizes a story that is an important part of Argentinian political history and culture. The show's creators took great pains to be authentic by using the dance and music that represents the country, as well as searching for the best dancers and musicians in Argentina to make up the cast. The result of combining these tools is a transporting experience that makes Cambridge feel more than a little Latin.

Arrabal, performances through June 18, 2017, at American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA; Box Office 617-547-8300 or americanrepertorytheater.org.

Book by John Weidman, Music by Gustavo Santaolalla, Directed & Co-choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, Choreographed by Julio Zurita; Scenic Design, Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design, Clint Ramos; Lighting Design, Vincent Colbert; Sound Design, Peter McBoyle; Projection Design, Peter Nigrini; Wig & Make-up Design, Rachel Padula; Music Director, Alejandro Kauderer; Associate Director, Emilia Lirman; Production Stage Manager, Katie Ailinger; Assistant Stage Manager, Alfredo Macias; Fight Director, Jason Tate

Cast (in alphabetical order): Soledad Buss, Valeria Celurso, Juan Cupini, Marianella Massarotti, Carlos Rivarola, Mario Rizzo, Micaela Spina, Julio Zurita; Ensemble: Florencia Beltramo, Nicolas Cobos, Paola Jean Jean, José Lugones, Analia Morales, Leonardo Pankow, Cesar Peral, Gabriel Ponce, Marcela Vespasiano; Swings: Teresa Garcia, John Hernan Raigoza

Orquesta Bajofonderos: Music Director & Keyboards, Alejandro Kauderer; Bandoneon, Patricio "Tripa" Bonfiglio; Guitar/Vocals, Luciano Coniglio; Violin, Julio Dominguez; Double Bass/Ronroco, Pablo Martin


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