La Lupe - reviewed by Robert Waddell

"La Lupe: Mi vida, mi destino"musical drama at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater

A review by Robert Waddell

In the 1960s and 1970s hey-day of Latin music, the voice of La Lupe was full of fire, sex, yearning and audacious theatricality.

In Carmen Rivera's "La Lupe: Mi Vida, Mi Destino" that same enormous bombast was recreated and mad alive once more. The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater's newest production tells the story of La Lupe's life in Cuba, traveling to New York City and her collaborations with Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente.

In this musical drama, La Lupe, played with uncanny reality by Doreen Montalvo, holds onto a prophesy given to her by her godmother. Her star would rise but tragedy would finish her.

And tragedy find La Lupe in many forms. After six year with Puente she was fired from his ban and couldn't find work. Her husband looses his mind, she becomes homeless after a fire destroys all of her possession and at one point La Lupe was almost paralyzed and thought to be confined to a wheelchair.

This telling La Lupe's life centers more on the life of the woman than the life of the singer. In spite of the fact that there's a four piece salsa group on stage and many of La Lupe's songs are recreated, this dramatization shows a woman who would reinvent herself, pick herself up and fight for what she wanted.

This is not the tragedy of La Lupe but the victory of La Lupe.

The five character play allows the actors to show their range and acting dexterity. Fred Valle plays five characters from smooth Tito Puente to pot bellied Willie, La Lupe's husband. Gilberto Arribas give a hilarious rendering of Morris, a sleazy record producer.

Ralina Cardona and Geisha Otero appear as nurses, back-up singers and La Lupe groupies.

But, it is Doreen Montalvo's La Lupe that's the plays center piece. She laughs and speaks to the audience directly. Her singing of classics like "Lo Que Paso Paso" and "La Tirana" filled the air with exhuberence and brio.

To be sure, in "La Lupe" there is no mourning or scornful regret, only a retelling of how even greatness can take many wrong turns and still come out on tip. As for this play, it only hist the high notes, catches it's breath and reaches for higher dramatic octaves.

What did you expect?

It's La Lupe. She always comes back swinging.