La Bamba! is unfortunately more siesta than fiesta.
Photo by Pamela Raith
The new musical follows Latinx teen, Sofia Martinez. Coming to terms with the loss of her father she navigates grief, high school and racial discrimination whilst following her dreams to be a musical artist.
Whilst the story is poignant and pressing; tackling presidential problems, racial profiling and the pandemic in Pacoima, California, Paul Morrissey’s book is lacklustre and doesn’t pack the punch it could.
The show touches ever so gently on Instagram fame and cancel culture, but stylistically feels a lot older. It’s all a bit confused. Ray Roderick’s direction sees newcomer Inês Fernandez employed as a narrator, breaking the fourth wall to move the story along. She spends time with a young version of herself, which is in parts endearing but the audience is totally distracted as an almost wordless, and totally underused, Pasha Kovalev lingers in the background of scenes.
It feels a little random – like Sofia’s stint as a singing waitress in a diner, and her embarking on a successful music career collaborating with an artist we never actually meet – plot points that are just on the cusp of being something interesting before they're discarded.
The cast however have fire in their belly. Pocket rocket Fernandez is joined in force by vocal prowess Stefani Ariza as her on-stage mother Elena. As her love interest, Siva Kaneswaran (of The Wanted fame) is gooey and charming in presence but unfortunately virtually impossible to hear sing on opening night due to unresolved technical issues.
The ensemble of 8 deliver with aplomb and at times add a touch of comedy to proceedings. An early act 2 scene sees Sofia’s rise to stardom in a fun montage, and the Day of the Dead festival is effective. However, they’re dressed in uninspired – and in parts ill fitting – costumes; belts are too long, strapless dresses are falling and a quick-change completely fails in the finale.
As expected, the dancing and music are the redeeming points of La Bamba! Choreographers Graziano Di Prima and Erica Da Silva have magicked up slick routines that are fun and energetic. The performances are complimented lovingly by vibrant lighting (designed by Jack Weir) that floods the stage in warm pinks and purples.
The musical selection is truly a treat (Alfonso Casado Trigo serves as musical supervisor and composer); featuring the hits of the idolised Ritchie Valens, as well as “Havana”, “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Let’s Get Loud” – used nicely as a protest song.
As a new musical, La Bamba! certainly feels original. The music is delicious and the dancing delightful. It’s a well-informed piece that celebrates Latin culture, but the story needs updating to really do it justice.
La Bamba plays at Curve before continuing on tour across the UK