“FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD” is the famous 1975 New York Daily News headline on the newspaper one the characters is seen reading. The show’s melodramatic climax takes place during and after the 1977 Blackout and there’s a riot along the way.
The hotheaded young Juan has returned to his family after spending three years in prison for a neighborhood squabble over his hard-edged girlfriend. His benevolent father owns a record store, his mother is nurturing, his younger brother is trying to get into Columbia Law School, one of his younger sisters becomes radicalized and the other is turning fifteen. There are also colorful neighbors and the villainous significant other of Juan’s former girlfriend weaving in and out of the action.
The very talented and engaging ensemble that’s comprised of Tito Nieves, Gilbert Velázquez, Ana Isabelle, Rossmery Almonte, Caridad De La Luz, Shadia Fairuz, Chachi Del Valle, Joseph “Quique” González, Angel López, Sofia Klimovsky, Nelson Gonzalez, and Yesenia Santiago wonderfully enacts these archetypal characters.
Book writers David Maldonado and Waddys Jáquez have crafted a flavorful and sturdy scenario that though hackneyed is emotionally involving. Most importantly they’ve created a framework for the performance of over 30 salsa songs.
The dynamic score is a collection of originals and standards by the likes of Tito Puente. Music director Desmar Guevara leads the accomplished band.
The combination of Mr. Jáquez’s solid direction and lively choreography yields a fast-paced and vibrant presentation. This is particularly visible during nightclub sequences.
Inventive scenic designer Raul Abrego has created an imposing brick wall as the back of the stage. Portions open up that simulate apartment windows through which characters appear and talk. There are trashcans and other necessary props around. Hanging from the theater’s balcony are clotheslines with garments and sneakers.
Rocco Disanti’s evocative projection design consists chiefly of street scenes that are projected on the wall conveying the visual sense of the neighborhood.
Also projected on the wall are supertitles for the English translation of dialogue and lyrics. About half of the show is in Spanish and it fluidly switches back and forth to English.
Benjamin Swope’s thrilling lighting design atmospherically enhances the dramatic sequences and showcases the musical portions. Julian Evans’ pulsing sound design forcefully realizes the power of the music as well as the requisite gunshots and police sirens.
The large cast is perfectly outfitted in suitably expressive 1970’s style clothing by costume designer Hochi Asiatico.
Despite its formulaic story, I Like It Like That is quite exhilarating with its sensational salsa renditions as performed by its appealing cast and excellent band.
I Like It Like That (extended through January 29, 2016)
Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre
304 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-9859 or visit http://www.ilikeitlikethat.com
Running time: two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission