TAMPA — You won’t find a complicated story line in Stageworks Theatre’s production of the musical Four Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria. And that’s a good thing.
Because the play’s simple plot is the perfect vehicle to celebrate terrific Latin music, performed by a stellar cast and band.
Four Latino men, all named Jose, met at Burrito World in Omaha, Neb. A lack of diversity inspires the men to put on a showcase of Latin standards, aiming to shut down stereotypes of Latin culture.
Each Jose represents a different Latin country and the stereotypes attached to it. Jose Cubano (Michael Pruitt) is loud and domineering — the other Joses call him “El Jefe,” a common nickname for Fidel Castro. Jose Puertorriqueno (Richard Cubi) is prone to ripping his shirt off and grinding his hips. Jose Domincano (Pablo Alameda) is a romantic and Jose Mexicano (Kidany Camilo) is sweet and gentle.
Enter Maria (Vanessa Rodriguez), who the men have invited to be in the show at the local VFW. She’s actually the replacement Maria — the original Maria was her roommate. She’s recently been dumped by her boyfriend, a perfect scenario for the Joses to vie for her affection.
Nostalgia for Latin music is one of the show’s main themes. The first act is a rundown of the history of crossover songs, including Guantanamera and La Bamba, and hits from Miami Sound Machine, Ricky Martin and Selena. The second act features traditional music like amorous ballads. The actors are all incredible singers, their voices showcased individually and in harmony, and they maintain fluid dance moves.
Directed by JL Rey, the show’s rapid pacing witty banter and physical comedy keeps you rapt, laughing and chair dancing from beginning to end. It’s visually compelling, too, with the vibrant colors of the costumes echoing the picados, the candy-colored paper banners strung across the VFW.
The cast moves into the audience and breaks the fourth wall. A four-piece band is perched above the stage, playing those infectious Latin rhythms. It’s a ton of fun and the audience was loving it.
The play is part of Stageworks’ Hispanic Initiative to produce one bilingual or entirely Spanish production each season. There’s a moment in this show when the cast members give a lesson in español. They also translate songs, which can have funny results. But the translations mostly reveal how poetic the lyrics are.
Rodriguez is captivating. As an opera singer, she effortlessly hits high notes but maintains the singing style of the genre. She’s funny and fierce, standing up to the men’s machismo with fire.
Another standout is Camilo (Jose Mexicano). He can hold a note for a ridiculous amount of time, ending with a perfect vibrato. And with a constantly bemused expression and impeccable timing, he’s a natural comedian.
The Joses really begin to compete for Maria’s affection with a dance scene, with machismo bordering on a #MeToo moment. But Maria grabs her power back and follows up with a female anthem about men being mentirosos, or liars.
While the plot is relatively simple, the play isn’t shallow. It slyly delves into notions of diversity and the issues Latin people face in America. One segment highlights the concept of “mi tierra” with nostalgic songs about homelands people were forced to leave. A twist at the end finally shatters stereotypes. It’s a joyful celebration of how Latin culture and music has added so much flavor to America.
Four Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria
$30. Runs through June 16 at Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 374-2416. For show times, visit stageworkstheatre.org.
Contact Maggie Duffy at [email protected] Follow @maggiedalexis.