By Tulis McCall

Buena Vista Social Club, now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company to riotous approval by every audience, is a bout as uplifting a show as you can get.

Only one problem – the producers left the audience seats bolted to the floor.  This means none of us can get up and dance.

And DANCE is what this music calls for.

This is the ‘story” of the now famous Buena Vista Social Club – you may remember the movie back in the late 1990’s that was made possible by Ry Cooder (not mentioned in the program.  Neither is Wim Wenders, the director or any of the original musicians — odd). who brought the musicians together with Wim Wenders and facilitated the creation of the documentary.  And let’s not forget their appearance at Carnegie Hall….

The story created is probably based on fact.  he hook here is that we see the main characters as they were in both 1956 just when the revolution was ginning up, and in 1996 when Cuba is pretty much a shell of what it was artistically.

We meet four characters: Omara (the only female musician) who came to the Social Club almost by accident ( she was performing with her sister for white folks at the Tropicana) as her young self (Kenya Browne) and her older and less hopeful older self (Natalie Venetia Belcon).  Compay (the elder played by Julio Monge and the younger by Jared Machado) has a hand in running the social club and entertaining the clientele.  Ibrahim (the elder by Mel Semé and the younger by Olly Sholotan) keeps his head on the books at the Social Club and also has a large hand in entertaining there as well as on the street at Sunset where he collects what coinage is offered.  There is a brief appearance of Rubén González (Jainardo Batista Sterling) who as an older character is too ill to play.

The person who brings everyone together is Juan De Marcos (Luis Vega) who is a producer on a mission.  Somehow he has raised the money and the interest of investors who think that the Cuban contribution to music should be saved. He has gathered the best musicians (indeed he has!) and now must herd the singers – and the final most important element is Omara.

The reunion and the music pulls them all back in time where hearts were tender, hopes were high, and talent was abandoned.  In order for them to complete the recording they must allow the buried past to unbury itself and trust that the music will guide them.

Not only does the music guide them – it guides us.  The musicians, David Oquendo and Renesito Avich in particular, have wings on every note they play and move from graceful ballads to insane riffs without blinking.

I do not speak Spanish so had little understanding of the songs – but honestly if you just have the brains to match what God gave a goat you can figure it out.  Love is love.  Longing is longing.  And ParTAY is ParTay in any language.  We are also guided by the spectacular choreography by Patricia Delgado and Justin Peck that has the six dancers performing herculean moves that take them in and out of partnerships on a stage about the size of a postage stamp.

As we begin the journey we are told by De Marcos that this sound – the Cuban sound – travels.  As the story closes we find ourselves back where we started with the characters where they were only more so.  The whole tale is tied up in a bow as we hear, once again, that this sound travels.

If I were you I would go out and get the CD or watch the documentary here.  Then write to Atlantic Theater Company and tell them to ditch the audience seats.  What could it hurt?

And, oh yeah, how about mentioning the original musicians in the Playbill – the ones who made all this possible.  Apologies if I missed something.

Ibrahim, Eliades and Compay

Buena Vista Social Club – Book by Marco Ramirez Music by Buena Vista Social Club, Creative Consultant David Yazbek. Choreography by Patricia Delgado and Justin Peck, Directed by Saheem Ali

 Featuring Skizzo Arnedillo, Renesito Avich, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Angélica Beliard, Kenya Browne, Danaya Esperanza, Carlos Falú, Francisco J. González, Jared Machado, Héctor Juan Maisonet, Ilda Mason, Marielys Molina, Julio Monge, Leonardo Reyna, Mel Semé, Olly Sholotan, Jainardo Batista Sterling, Nancy Ticotin, and Luis Vega

The band of Buena Vista Social ClubTM features music supervisor Dean Sharenow, music director, orchestrations & arrangements by Marco Paguia, additional arrangements by Javier Diaz and David Oquendo, consultant Juan de Marcos, and musicians Javier Diaz, Román Diaz, Guido Gonzalez, Mauricio Herrera, Hery Paz, Gustavo Schartz, and Edward Venegas.

Buena Vista SocialClubTMfeatures sets by Arnulfo Maldonado, costumes by DedeAyite, lighting by TylerMicoleau, sound by Jonathan Deans, wigs, hair & make-up by J. Jared Janas,
At Atlantic Theater – TICKETS HERE EXTENDED THROUGH JANUARY 21.