Cuba in 1962 is torn apart by political oppression as Fidel Castro solidifies his rule and citizens are fleeing to the United States. After the family’s close call with the authorities, Pedro’s parents decide to send their bookish and sensitive son to New York City where his father’s sister lives. He reluctantly agrees to go with the understanding that they’ll soon follow. In Manhattan, he struggles to assimilate and becomes close friends with Roger, a Mexican boy who arrived two years ago, and Wendy, an African-American girl who is freshly from Alabama.
Original Rent cast member and Tony-winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia is outstanding as Pedro’s father. Mr. Heredia’s soaring vocal talent, physical command and animation all enrich his fiery and paternal characterization.
The majestic Natalie Toro’s comic timing and dramatic heft are evidenced by her majestic portrayal of Aunt Lily. Ms. Toro sets aside the laughs for a powerful reminiscence of when she was a principal at a private school before the revolution. She couldn’t abide the authoritarian new order and came to New York with her doctorate but could only find work as a domestic.
Gregory Diaz IV is soulful and intense as Pedro. The boyish and charming Mr. Diaz winningly performs this leading role with intensity and humor. Recalling the razzle dazzle of an old-time child-star vaudevillian, Julian Silva is phenomenal as Roger. Besides her lovely presence as Wendy, Taylor Caldwell singing is amazing. The radiant Genny Lis Padilla as Pedro’s mother is maternal warmth personified.
Cherry Torres and Rodrigo Ignacio Cruz dynamically play a variety of adult characters. Sisley Carretas and Diego Lucano wonderfully appear as different children. Mr. Lucano stands out as an obnoxious American due to his striking facial expressions and magnetism.
Rebecca Aparicio’s book is a skillful fictionalization of the true story of Operation Pedro Pan, which facilitated the immigration of over 14,000 children from Cuba to the United States between December 1960 and October 1962. Ms. Aparicio successfully dramatizes the harsh era of the Castro regime, the promise of freedom in the U.S. and the realities of racism, all through a child’s perspective. The incidents are illustrative, historical facts are imparted, and the dialogue is engagingly simple yet effective.
The delightfully tuneful score by Stephen Anthony Elkins is an assortment of mostly Latin-tinged melodies matched to well-crafted lyrics. The opening ensemble number is a euphoric introduction to life in Havana and there are several marvelous songs that the children sing.
When the audience arrives, the bare stage has a large screen on the back wall with a colorful collage of Cuban postage stamps. It’s the first of projection designer Lisa Renkel’s arresting creations that accompany the onstage actions. There are gorgeously stylized images of the various Cuban and New York locales including one that mashes up the landmarks of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.
This high-tech presentation allows director Melissa Crespo’s smooth presentation to briskly flow while also conveying the emotionality of the story. Choreographer Sidney Erik Wright’s dances are a captivating combination of native-inspired sequences and musical theater production numbers.
Lighting designer Ben Bauer contributes to the show’s visual achievements with glossy hues. Mark Van Hare’s sound design expertly balances the tones of the four-piece band and the effects. Rachel Dozier-Ezell’s zesty garments depict Havana residents, Cuban soldiers and New Yorkers with precise authenticity.
Small in scale, Pedro Pan is accomplished and its pro-immigration sentiments will resonate for many.
Pedro Pan (July 10 – 14, 2018)
The New York Musical Theatre Festival
White Elk Productions
The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212.352.3101 or visit http://www.nymf.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission