As a critic, I go to the theater a lot. Most times it’s not even to review a show. I love theater. I love the intimacy it provides. I love the imagination that is triggered and the innovative way in which it keeps evolving. To make a stage into another place, transport us into another world, and make us care about people that do not exist beyond it… that is a tall order. Most times we get a nice piece of entertainment that will end in regional theaters everywhere. Other times we get experimentation from minds that are ready to change the concept itself. Some work, some doesn’t. Then there are shows that combine those philosophies then invent new ones to create exciting and refreshing work that will stay with you for a long time. You are lucky if you see a handful of these a year. I saw one of them Tuesday afternoon. The name of the play is “Pedro Pan,” and no, it is not a translation of the beloved Peter Pan tale.
Based on the largest exodus of minors in the western world known as “Operation Pedro Pan,” the story written and directed flawlessly by Rebecca Aparicio follows one of these children from Cuba to New York. A feisty and adorable kid who has to be sent to an unknown land by his loving parents thanks to the fear of indoctrinations from their corrupt government, this show explores immigration at its most basic: most of the time humans do it because they have no other choice. Pedro’s journey is full of life, heartbreaks, and music. And what incredible music it is. Being from the Caribbean myself, the music hit hard. It had so much love for its culture, for the story, and more importantly, it created the nostalgia that only one that has been ripped from their home can understand. Stephen Elkins’ music and lyrics elevate the production and its instrumental in making us believe the urban fairy tale. I couldn’t help but smile, even when the songs made me want to cry, for example in “Fly,” a song in which Pedro’s parents (played by Aparicio herself and Bobby Gámez) are saying goodbye to him; a melancholic song that will make your heart break and at the same time filled you with hope. And that’s just an example.
But we all know… a show only works as good as it cast can make it. And guess what? Lead by Luis E. Mora as Pedro, this ensemble is not only easy to fall in love wit,h but it’s also easy to listen to. Their voices create the harmony, which makes us understand each step that Pedro must take to find his own acceptance. Aparicio and Gámez played Pedro’s parents with such conviction, laying the foundation to Pedro’s believes and persona. Then there is his friends played Joey Lozada and Destinee Rea, whose charming personalities make the audience wish they were children again to be able to play with them. Especially Destinee, whose powerful voice made everyone stop and listen. Then there’s Tia Lily, played by Amanda Castaños, Pedro’s one connection to Cuba. She is both wise and patient, and a delight every time she is on stage. But none of this would have gotten the rating it will get if it wasn’t for Pedro himself, Luis E. Mora. A child full of curiosity and soul that seems to be getting crushed by the intolerance of his new home, Luis plays Pedro not only as a happy boy in a bad situation, but as a boy going through growing pains right before our eyes. Even John Ryan Del Bosque, who plays the minor part of the Bully, is interesting to watch each time and made me laugh with his antics. Talk about doing a lot when given a little.
I could not finish this review without mentioning the fantastic work the technical crew did. The lighting design by Jason Fork and Sound Design by Howard Fredericks form a melody with Elkins’ music and Aparicio’s words. It feels like these people have worked together for years, the only way to have this kind of chemistry. The costume design was accurate, colorful, and represented the Caribbean culture rather well. I could see my grandparents in these clothes. Lynsey Buckelew finishes their perfect looks with her precise makeup work, while Guillermo Laporta gives the show it’s visual dominance with his projections. For a show to transcend the normal fate of an off-Broadway theater musical and go into the history books by being part of Broadway it has to have the crew in this kind of sync. And when everything else works like this, in tune with each other, the only way to go is up. Honestly, it just needs to be a little bit longer and I don’t see anything stopping it.
Since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, I have not experienced a show about Hispanic culture that captures the essence as well as this one. But to say only Hispanics would get it would be a lie. This show is for everyone. There were children in the audience, dancing and completely involved in the piece. There were adults laughing and clapping all throughout. In the one hour that we got, I felt more than in any of the many three hours shows I get to see. The duo of Rebecca Aparicio and Stephen Elkins are on the way to the big stages and marquee names, and this production proves that. Don’t miss where they started. But more importantly, don’t miss a show that resonates with today’s political climate at the same time that it touches on individualism and the uniqueness of one’s self. This Friday will be the last showing at 2PM. Get yourself to The Theater at the 14th Street Y, and watch one of, if not the best, Fringe NYC 2015 show. Support New Work!
Out of 4 stars:
*All images via Korey Wilson
Twisted Talk: Are you familiar with Operación Pedro Pan? What did you think of this show? Discuss below!