La Lupe: My Life, My Destiny

Presented by and at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, 304 W. 47 St., NYC, June 27–Aug. 11.

Victoria Lupe Yoli was a poor kid from Cuba whose dad wanted her to be a teacher. But La Lupe could belt out a song like no one else. In Carmen Rivera's adept biodrama, we watch her rise from amateur contest winner to a six-year partnership with Tito Puente, sold-out performances in Carnegie Hall, and talk show stardom.

There are 14 songs in all, but "La Lupe: My Life, My Destiny" is not a revue with a shoestring plot line. It's an inside look at fame and misfortune, the dramatic equivalent of a page turner. Rivera cleverly frames it with a Santería prophecy that the singer would enjoy more success than she ever dreamed before experiencing a terrible fall. We ask with her when Tico Records drops her, when her husband becomes ill, when she can't get work—is it now? Each turn in her life brings new surprises—and new music. The musical high point is her Latin rendition of "Fever," where we see what she could do with a jazz standard. No wonder many of her albums went gold.

Sully Díaz sounds sensational as she sings La Lupe's sizzling musical arrangements, but the nuances Díaz brings create the real insight into the complexities of this legendary figure. As La Lupe ages from an overeager teen to a mother holding her family together on the brink of disaster, it's all credible—and admirable. Eddie Marrero as the important men in her life is a large, comforting presence who does not play character roles as much as suit the action to the scene. Gilberto Arribas, Mónica Pérez-Brandes, and Marly Rivera are able and likeable bit players. Director Luis Caballero uses small gestures with great skill and balances the operatic with an admirable light touch.

Wed. and Thurs. performances are in English; weekend performances are in Spanish.