Off-Broadway Review: “Pedro Pan” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed on Saturday August 14, 2018)
Photo: Jenny Lis Padilla and Wilson Jermaine Heredia with the Company of “Pedro Pan.” Credit: Joe TickNow.
Off-Broadway Review: “Pedro Pan” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed on Saturday August 14, 2018) Book by Rebecca Aparicio Music and Lyrics by Stephen Elkins Directed by Melissa Crespo Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
During the Fidel Castro regime, “Operation Pedro Pan” transported children fleeing the growing fears of Communist indoctrination in Cuba to the safety of the United States where some of the children were reunited with family or relatives while others were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau. Based on this historic event, the new musical aptly titled “Pedro Pan” is now playing at the Acorn Theater as part of the NYMF 2018 Season. The subject matter is so relevant to the current socio-political landscape regarding immigration and assimilation that it is ripe for development into a germane piece of theater. Conceived as a musical it has the opportunity to capture the lively essence of the Cuban culture through song and dance that represents a significant portion of their heritage.
The book by Rebecca Aparicio clearly defines the activities but only faintly presents the severity of the brutal situation in the homeland and the constant struggle for acceptance in a foreign land. The story needs to be more fluid and less linear to invoke urgency and sentiment. Music by Stephen Anthony Elkins is strongest when highlighting Latin beats, but also provides some pleasant ballads in a pop Broadway style with lyrics that support the action. Direction by Melissa Crespo is lackluster and inconsistent and misses numerous opportunities to explore the nature of the activity or the depth of the characters. Choreographer Sidney Erik Wright creates somewhat pedestrian production routines, given the ability demonstrated by the talented performers.
The soul of this production truly lies in the exemplary cast that is flawless. Wilson Jermaine Heredia (a sincere Papi) will melt your heart with his vocal prowess. Genny Lis Padilla (a loving and torn Mami) is the perfect complement to Mr. Heredia with a pure and clear tone. Their duets are wonderful. Natalie Toro embodies Tia Lily with care and concern, soft and stern, always on point with a strong vocal. Then there is Gregory Diaz IV (a subtle and vulnerable Pedro) and his motley crew, Julian Silva (a confident Roger), and Taylor Caldwell (a spunky and fearless Wendy). Individually they are impressive, together they are a powerhouse of energy and exhibit wisdom beyond their years, understanding the security of friendship but never denying the need for acceptance.
It is understood that although presented as a full production, the work is still in development. Hopefully the show will expand to at least ninety minutes or more, fleshing out the characters, adding a few songs that will extract more of the drama in Cuba and relate to the fear and isolation of moving to a foreign land. The creative team should embrace the efforts of this cast who reveal the potential of the material with their spirited performances.
The cast of “Pedro Pan” includes Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Genny Lis Padilla, Natalie Toro, Gregory Diaz IV, Julian Silva, Taylor Caldwell, Cherry Torres, Rodrigo Ignacio Cruz, Diego Lucano, and Sisley Carretas.