Spanglish

GALA Theatre's ''Puerto Rico…¡Fuá!'' is pretty much like taking a trip to the island – strange and surprising, but charming

Puerto Rico can be a peculiar experience for visitors, with its confusing mix of cultures and commercialism, of Spanish and English – Spanglish – of classy and cheap art and design. It’s a foreign place that uses American dollars and doesn’t require a passport.

In other words, it’s pretty much South Florida — with mangoes.

Puerto Rico fua!

Puerto Rico fua!

(Photo by Nick Eckert)

Eventually, the strangeness and shock wear off, and by the time you leave the beauty of the people and the place has charmed you enough you’ll be happy to go back.

The same pretty much can be said for Puerto Rico…¡Fuá!, which GALA Theatre calls ”the most popular Puerto Rican musical of all time,” and from which the comparison to Florida derives. The local theater company offers the area premiere of Carlos Ferrari’s musical, first staged in the ’70s on the island.

Puerto Rico…¡Fuá! doesn’t include any specific references to Puerto Rico or Puerto Ricans in American popular culture – not even West Side Story or Rita Moreno. Still, you can’t help but wonder whether Ferrari was inspired by Moreno’s work in the early ’70s-era series The Electric Company. That PBS children’s show, produced by what is now the Sesame Workshop, was geared to young kids who had outgrown Sesame Street, offering sketch comedy-based educational lessons about grammar, reading – and diversity.

Puerto Rico…¡Fuá! isn’t by any means strictly educational, and it’s certainly not geared to children – though the generally cheery, cheesy music, played with verve by local salsa band Sin Miedo (Without Fear, in Spanish), and the slapstick and exaggerated humor would appeal to adolescents. After all, the show does include a skit in which a Spanish teacher makes learning the alphabet fun by acting out in unison the letters. L-U-V, Puerto Rico!

The show’s 32 skits progress through key points in the history of the Enchanted Island, from its pre-conquistador time with the indigenous Taino peoples, to Spanish colonization and Catholic conversion, to the ”real clown act” that was the Spanish-American War, to finally adopting American ways and customs. All action takes place on Luciana Stecconi’s stage built for a one-ring, traveling circus, heightening the jovial mood.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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