Impresario extraordinario Pepe Hernandez is back, una sensacional bit of news for anyone looking for 90 minutos of nonstop hilardad. Simplemente put, El Grand Circus De Coca-Cola, now playing at the Skylight Theatre, is the funniest show you’re likely to see in todo el año de 2015.
No, this is not el original El Grande De Coca-Cola that took off-Broadway by storm some four decades ago but its outrageously side-splitting sequel, one which takes our intrepid host Pepe (Marcelo Tubert) and his familia of entertainers up from South Of The Border Down Mexico Way to their dream destinación, none other than Hollywood USA.
If only Pepe and company’s talentos matched their ambiciones.
Fortunately for audiences now gozando El Grande Circus De Coca-Cola’s extended run over in Los Feliz, it’s precisely la familia Hernandez’s limited gifts that make El Circus such grande fun—and you don’t have to speak a word of Spanish to enjoy every minuto of El Show.
The laughs have already begun during the pre-show audience warm-up, which has Pepe’s gorgeous daughters Consuelo (Lila Dupree) and Maria (Olivia Cristina Delgado) discovering celebridades seated amongst the crowd (“Julie Andrews” and “Lupita Nyong’o” at the performance reviewed, and I’m told “Martha Stewart” has been a frequent visitor) … and doing some self-promotion in the bargain.
Then it’s on with the show as Pepe officially introduces his brood of four: Consuelo, Maria, Miguel (Paul Baird), and Juan (Aaron Miller), the first three from several of Pepe’s various “wifeys” and number four a gypsy foundling raised as one of his own.
El Grande Circus may have lost most of its menagerie of animales while crossing the border, but several remain, most notably the heard-but-not-seen Chupacabra (a legendary bestia whose equal-opportunity feasting includes not only goats but Subarus) and the troupe’s microscopic Flamenco Fleas.
A plot El Grand Circus De Coca-Cola may lack, but act after act it’s got including:
• Aerial gimnásticos that could well put Maria’s life in danger, or at least her legs …
• A knife-throwing number that just might put an audience member’s life in danger …
• Pepe’s impresiones en español of Hollywood stars like Cagney and Bogart and El Duke himself …
• A sawing-a-lady-in-half trick with the adicional bonus of Maria managing to twist her body in half while inside the box …
Balletophiles can delight in the troupe’s “Bolshoi Ballet Radioactivo” rendition of Swan Lake complete with swan headdress-sporting ballerina, kiss-awaiting frog, and humungously-endowed prince.
Soap opera lovers can relish Pepe’s take on that most cherished of Mexican art forms, La Telenovela, this one featuring so much over-the-top adulterous lust that it puts “Los Hung Y Los Restless” to shame.
History buffs can thrill to Juan’s 3-foot-tall Napoleon’s efforts to load a black beachball into a gigantico cannon.
Equestrian fans can ooh and aah at the caballo brought to life by a wire-horse-headed Juan up front with Miguel bringing up the rear end.
Most memorable of all is a quinceañera crowning that morphs into slow-motion brawl as brilliantly staged as any live slow-mo free-for-all you’ve ever seen.
El Grande Circus De Coca-Cola is the brainchild of writer Ron House (who originated the role of Pepe back in the early 1970s) and original cast member Alan Shearman, who directs its sequel with utter fabulosidad, bringing out the best in an all-around estellar cast.
Argentina-born Shakespearean Tubert takes a break from his classical theater home at Antaeus to bring Pepe to life with so much efervescencia, he gives Coke a run for its carbonación.
Dupree (who spent half of 2013 playing Consuelo at the Ruskin Theatre’s revival of the original El Grande) and Delgado could hardly be more deliciosas. (Think Lucy and Ethel had those physical comedy legends been sexy Latinas.)
Matching the ladies in comedic chops and sex appeal are drummer Miller and keyboardist Baird, the latter in particular showing off virtuoso fingerwork on the upright piano and accordion.
Tor Campbell’s delightful coreografía features everything from Latin steps to ballet … with a wink to the audience who are in on the joke.
Scenic designer John Iacovelli gives El Grande Circus a terrifically low-end traveling tent, Jennifer Edwards lights it with pizzazz, sound designer Jeff Gardner provides laugh-getting effects, and Jeff Faeth’s properties are fanciful wonders.
Christopher Hoffman is production stage manager.
El Grande Circus De Coca-Cola is based on El Grande De Coca-Cola, by House, Diz White, Shearman, and John Neville-Andrews, and is produced by Gary Grossman and presented in association with Flying Cucumber Productions.
Rachel Berney Needleman is associate producer. Barbara Bosson and Jean & Timothy B. Schmit are honorary producers.
Pepe Hernandez’s dreams of Hollywood superstardom may well remain as unattainable as his mastery of the English language, but no matter. El Grande Circus De Coca-Cola is as grande-tastico as 99-seat circuses get.
The Skylight Theatre, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles.
August 29, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger