Theater Review: EVOLUTION OF A SONERO (Los Angeles Theatre Center)

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by Tony Frankel on May 25, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Here’s what tipped me off that we were about to see something special: Pianist Carlos Ordiano enters with four band members (“The Razor Blades”) at Los Angeles Theatre Center, and plays a gorgeous — and I mean GORGEOUS — piano solo, molto melodic and introspective. Then the quintet broke into a jazzy, funky, yummy number which featured a knockout trombone solo by Richard Velzen (the other band members are Edward Resto on ElectriBass, Joey De Leon on timbales, and Juan Moreno on congas). If this cool-cat combo was the only attraction, I would have been more than pleased. But out comes Flaco Navaja, who — for the next 90 minutes — will offer us his love letter to salsa music. Done via the sections that make up a perfect salsa song, Navaja tells the story of his life as a sonero: an improvising lead singer in salsa music (he will also teach why Janis Joplin and Charlie Chaplin are also soneros). The indefatigable, adorable, mesmerizing, loveable Navaja will leave you slack-jawed as he offers songs, movement, slam poetry and awesome mimicry to tell his tale in Evolution of A Sonero, excitingly directed by Miranda González and featuring a libretto “arranged” by Carlos Cuevas.

And Navaja definitely has this music  — a cultural blend of non-confrontational hip-hop and salsa — in his blood (wait til you hear “Otra Noche”). Every knee-and-leg knock-and-pop, and each arm-swagger, reside in his soul. Pun intended, but he puts a new spin on solo shows. He broke my heart with tales of being unable to escape the bad-boy route — you know, getting arrested for smoking pot in high school ON HIS MOM’S BIRTHDAY — when at heart he was basically a nerd. Know that a lot of the show is in Spanish, so song lyrics and cultural references can get lost. At first, I felt left out, but soon I saw that using this language was integral to our experience, and it becomes easier to understand the meaning behind the Spanish (maybe supertitles next time?). Set designer Manuel Ortiz kept it simple, putting the band on many levels in front of a curved black scrim, which allowed lighting designer Ellie Humphrys to colorfully set the mood. The Puerto Rican jacket and porkpie hat were perfect additions from costume design Sarah Albrecht. I’d offer more, but there is only one weekend left to catch this short run. Also, this is one of our better houses in L.A. — the raked seating is magnificent, so no one has a bad seat.

photos by Victoria Sanders

Evolution of A Sonero
Latino Theater Company
in association with Chicago’s UrbanTheater Company
Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St.
ends on May 28, 2023
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
for tickets, call 213.489.0994 or visit LATC
parking ($8) with validation at Joe’s Parking structure, just south of the theater

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