Kiss My Aztec! At La Jolla Playhouse

In a bawdy, boisterous and clever musical, John Leguizamo has rebirthed his decades old play as “Kiss My Aztec!” If a comparison is needed, I’d say it is a cross between “Spamalot” and “Hamilton.” All three share a radical reworking of traditional formats. The rap and hip-hop influences are missing from “Spamalot,” but that Monty Python classic influenced the creators of “Kiss My Aztec!” in terms of clever wordplay, faux-Elizabethan vocabulary and absurdist plot devices.

“Kiss My Aztec!” is set among a group of 16th century Aztec rebels fomenting resistance against the Spanish. After a premiere at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the musical is enjoying a run in Southern California. (Leguizamo is also front and center up the freeway, his “Latin History for Morons” is currently on offer in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson).

For several years Leguizamo worked with writer director Tony Taccone on the play that forms the basis of “Kiss My Aztec!” The satirical angle has been buttressed by the songs, with music by Benjamin Velez and lyrics by David Kamp, Velez and Leguizamo.

(Front) Joél Pérez (Pepe) with cast members (second row, L – R): Jesús E. Martínez (Ensemble), Yani Marin (Colombina) and Chad Carstarphen (El Jaguar Negro); (back row, l to r): Angelica Beliard (Ensemble) and Richard Henry Ruiz (Ensemble) in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Kiss My Aztec!, running September 3 – October 13; photo courtesy of Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

The musical explodes from the first number, and barely lets up through the evening. White People on Boats cleverly sets the stage as the Aztecs prepare for the European invaders. Timely references include (in)famous Trump quotes turned back on his ilk.

(Front) Zachary Infante (Sebastian); (back row, L – R): KC de la Cruz (Ensemble) and Angelica Beliard (Ensemble) in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Kiss My Aztec!, running September 3 – October 13; photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Indeed, attention must be paid to catch all the references whizzing by. In much the same way the other two musicals mentioned above take the piss out of royalty, the Spanish monarchy is presented in perfectly buffoonish manner.

The role of the fool, meaning the character who sees through the issues with humor, is Pepe, well-played by Joél Pérez and likely closest to the voice of Leguizamo. Pepe’s unrequited love for Colombina (Yaniu Marin) the daughter of rebel leader underlies his efforts, which invariably draw Pepe into the rebellion when she disobeys her father’s orders to stay at home like all the other women.

The interplay between Pepe and Colombina is infectious, and leads to the first half’s closer Shit’s About To Go Down.

The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Kiss My Aztec!, running September 3 – October 13; photo courtesy of Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Taccone’s direction keeps the multi-pronged proceedings on the rails, ably assisted by nimble choreography by Maija Garcia. Credit clever stage and costume design to Clint Ramos.

The second half moves more quickly, eventually tying together the loose strands. New Girl, New World and Puppetry Slam are especially effective.

This is not your uncle’s musical, it is a vibrant contemporary take on issues that stretch back many centuries.

 

 

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

Advertisement