Luis Valdez's original Corridos (1984) was a revue of dramatized musical vignettes based on traditional and contemporary Mexican folk ballads about passion, insurrection, and crime. In this completely new and even more entertaining Corridos Remix, written by him in collaboration with Kinan Valdez who also directs it, Luis Valdez performs as well, in his endearingly cheeky style of earthy wordplay, the narrating role of a professor of ethnomusicology who joins with his granddaughter (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, a performer of great charm and versatility, dramatically and musically) in a search for her missing father, the professor's son, a wild and crazy rock singer (played with raucous vitality by Fernando Vega).
This sketchy framing tale weaves into itself about a dozen or so storytelling ballads—including the romantic "Modesta Ayala," the criminal "Contrabando y Traicion" and "La Banda de Carro Rojo," and the political satire "El Circo"—half of which come again from Mexican tradition, but the rest drawn from a surprising range of other sources. There is the old Gold Rush story of "John Chinaman's Appeal" and a vividly staged version of "The Ballad of John Henry" (or "El Corrido de Juan Henry"), all illuminating what the ethnomusicologist labels "the universality of immigrant labor," with Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" tacked on to sharpen the point. We also get "Li'l Red Riding Hood," from Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (1966), Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Woman," and Alicia Keys' "Caged Bird." Most of the second act is devoted to an extensive musical reworking of the 6th century Chinese "Ballad of Mulan," about a girl disguised as a soldier, told with the insertion of such relatively recent Western numbers as A Perfect Circle's "Let's Have a War," "How I Could Kill a Man" by Rage Against the Machine, the Civil War song "Just Before the Battle, Mother," and the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" plus selections from their Abbey Road.
It makes for something of a musical mishmash. But the whole eclectic gallimaufry is performed with such spirit and staged with such inventive vitality using a minimum of scenery, many projections, and gaudy costumes (all three the unified design work of Victoria Petrovich) that an overall infectious sense of fun prevails, flying in the face of the more tragic elements in the mix. This fiesta ambience is much enhanced by Javier Velasco's pervasive choreography and a hot onstage band, led by musical director Fred Lanuza, himself variously on accordion, saxophone, ethnic flute, or keyboards. Strong multicharacter supporting performances are given by Raul Cardona, Alysa Lobo, and Robert Barry Fleming, along with Amir Khastoo, Sandra Ruiz, Markus Rodriguez, and Lena Coleman completing the ensemble.
"Corridos Remix: A Musical Fusion of Ballads Beyond Borders," presented by the San Diego Repertory Theatre at the Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. Tue. 7 p.m., Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Apr. 29-May 22. $26.50-41.50. (619) 544-1000.