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Let It Simmer:
rk Taper Forum's 13th New Work Festival opens this weekend with a highly charged musical revue called The Lalo Project. The show has been created by Taper's Latino Theatre Initiative co-director Diane Rodriguez and theatre veteran Jose Delgado. Based on the godfather of Chicano music-Lalo Guerrero-the show is sure to be gratifying to a wide audience under Rodriguez's direction."I think people are going to be shocked by the music," said Rodriguez in a recent interview during rehearsals. She alluded to the fact that Chicano/Latino audiences will undoubtedly embrace this major icon, but even the expected audience will be in for a surprise. For those audience members not familiar with the now 85-year-old Lalo Guerrero, the show is a guaranteed cultural enlightenment. Lalo Guerrero, originally from Tucson, Arizona, eventually moved to Los Angeles and made it his home. This is a migration many Los Angelenos can identify with, especially artists. What happened to this talented musician and vocalist is chronicled in over 700 songs (12 albums) which he created. It was Delgado's job-this particular project has been broiling in him for 15 years-to trim the musical canon down to 30 songs. They span three decades of Lalo's musical career. Then, musical directors David Hidalgo and Louie Perez of Los Lobos pared it down even further-to around 17 songs.Rodriguez was quick to add, "Audiences are going to get the best of Lalo and Louie. They both have this cornball humor, you know." Perez translated Guerrero's lyrics to English, and many times the material went back and forth between the two and what transpired was even funnier material. As hoped for by Rodriguez, the translation is a point of entry for all non-Spanish speaking audiences. Delgado, making a reference to the rhythm in Mexican polkas, interjected, "and we stayed away from too much umpa-umpa... because we want the audience to enjoy a variety of music even if they lose a lyric here or there."But there are more than musical gains for the audience. The revue is operating on three levels. Music and lyrics aside, the show has a vibrant thread of Chicano consciousness. "Lalo really became a "witness' to what was happening to the Mexican population," explained Rodriguez, "his music is part of a longer history connected to Los Angeles." This is why the second layer of the show is a juxtaposition of the Mexican population and literary figures who were also "exiles" at one time or another in Los Angeles: Raymond Chandler, Bertolt Brecht, and Henry Miller to name a few."On the third level, there is the narrative of Lalo. A Lalo-Everyman," said Rodriguez. There is so much love for the show and Los Angeles exuding from Rodriguez, she aptly called this project a "Valentine to L.A."For those who attend the special showing of the musical revue at the Actors' Gang in Hollywood, they will be greeted by Rodriguez who will explain the goals for the evening. "We simply want to hear the music and the lyrics," she said. The audiences also have a chance to participate in feedback discussions after the performances. Another reason the New Work Festival is a boon to Los Angeles-based, national, and international playwrights is the following: they gather to experiment freely and nurture new work without production demands or critical review. And one of the changes this year-how the work is developed-seems to be garnering support from both the production and artistic end. In the past, actors would collaborate with the playwright for several days and then put the work up. This year, the actors and playwrights came together for a few days and then the playwright was left alone for a month with his work. After a month, the collaborators rejoined; obviously this process gives the writer a gestation period. "This is so much about the process," reiterated Delgado minutes before we enter the rehearsal room. During the rehearsal, in a space imbued with good energy, Guerrero's music and the text were brought to life by four talented and passionate actor-singers: David Barrera, Gabriel Gonzalez, Carla Jimenez, and Maggie Palomo. The ensemble's versatile voices cascaded through boogie-woogies, mambos, swings, and be-bops to name some of the musical styles of the show. Rodriguez is right, one is wonderfully shocked and held fast by the music and lyrics-so much, that this writer didn't dare move from her seat even if she was going to get a parking ticket! Ultimately, Rodriguez and Delgado would love to see this show continue to develop so they can do a full run in the Los Angeles community.The rehearsal alone was such an uplifting experience, it was hard not to see the ironic connection between Lalo and L.A. Here is a man-a living legend-whose first name alone incorporates the city he witnessed. All right, a little corny, but I'm sure Lalo would approv
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