Gracias a Doña Barbara Beckley, Don Pepe Hernandez and his El Grand Circus De Coca-Cola have moved arriba from their 99-seat-plan origins and brought their multiple Scenie-winning* 90 minutos of nonstop hilardad to Burbank’s Colony Theatre for what remains 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, fresh from its smash three-month run at the Teatro Skylight and ready to delight Burbank audiences just as it did those en el distrito Los Feliz.
El Grand Circus De Coca-Cola 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, or at least Hollywood-adjacent Burbank, which now gets a number of Colony run-specific referencias, among them Warner Brothers, Johnny Carson, Miss Burbank 1948 Debbie Reynolds, and Ikea (next door to the Colony).
If only Pepe and company’s talentos matched their ambiciones.
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 (“Martha Stewart” and “Larry David” at the performance reviewed) 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 plenty of acts 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 equal 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’s transfer to the Colony honors the theater’s 25-year 99-seat-plan historia and works almost as well in the 268-seat house as it did at the Skylight. (What does work less well are Conseulo and Maria’s pre-show audience interacciónes, now inaudible to those seated farther away, and indeed the entire cast could stand additional amplificación throughout the show.)
The brainchild of writer Ron House (who originated the role of Pepe back in the early 1970s) and Alan Shearman, El Grande Circus De Coca Cola has been directed with utter fabulosidad at the Colony by original cast member Alan Shearman, who brings out the best in an all-around estellar cast.
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 has adapted El Grande Circus’s terrifically low-end traveling tent for the dimenciones of the más grande Colony, with hanging streamers and lights adding to the circus effect. Jennifer Edwards lights El Grande Circus with the same pizzazz she did at the Skylight, sound designer Jeff Gardner provides muchos laugh-getting effects, and Jeff Faeth’s properties are once again wonders de imaginación.
Garrett Longley is production stage manager. Christopher Hoffman is production coordinator. Paul Ruddy is casting director.
El Grande Circus De Coca-Cola (a Skylight Theater and Flying Cucumber Production) is based on El Grande De Coca-Cola, by House, Diz White, Shearman, and John Neville-Andrews.
Gary Grossman is producer. Rachel Berney Needleman is associate producer. Barbara Bosson and Jean & Timothy B. Schmit are honorary producers.
Tinseltown stardom may well continue to elude Pepe Hernandez throughout his show’s six-week Colony run, but no importa. El Grande Circus De Coca-Cola is every bit as fantastico just over the Cahuenga Pass as it would be were it playing on el Boulevard de Hollywood itself.
*El Grande Circus De Cola-Cola was honored with 5 Intimate Theater Scenies: Outstanding Musical Revue; Ensemble Cast Performance, Musical Revue (Paul Baird, Oliva Cristina Delgado, Lila Dupree, Aaron Miller, & Marcelo Tubert); Performance In A Musical Revue (Paul Baird); Performance In A Musical Revue (Marcelo Tubert), and Direction Of A Musical Revue Or Cabaret (Alan Shearman).
Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank.
November 7, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger