Carlos Lacamara

Never mind the politics, ‘Cuba Libre’ knows how to party

When Artists Repertory Theatre's world premiere musical finds its groove, it's all hands on stage

When Artists Repertory Theatre’s Cuba Libre starts to heat up—when the band Tiempo Libre has time to do some serious digging on a song, the cast of excellent singers is in full voice, and the dancers are stretching and entwining in the most sinuous ways—well, that’s just about the best party imaginable. And if you’re in the audience, instead of just observing and attempting to channel the thrills vicariously, you may just find yourself led onstage where the action is hottest. Axiom: The cool distance between audience and performer melts when booties are shaken with intent and abandon.

At the beating heart of this world premiere musical—music by Jorge Gómez, book by Carlos Lacámara (who wrote last season’s Exiles), choreography by Maija Garcia, direction from Dámaso Rodriguez, all Cubans or Cuban-Americans—the blood is flowing in salsa rhythms, more or less, and that’s a very good thing. I’m less sure of the story itself, which is loosely based on the experiences of Gómez, and the sense it tries to make of life in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union—and the subsequent collapse of Soviet subsidies to Cuba. But during the show, every time an alarm went off in my head, someone started singing or undulating or the beat became too infectious to maintain my reservations for long.

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