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Review: Satire & Salsa. It's summer at the snappy new Ford Theatre

July 18, 2017 | By Bruce R. Feldman

Culture Clash's OG Summer Desmadre, The Ford Theatre, Los Angeles, July 16, 2017

Even though it’s located just a few hundred yards across Cahuenga Pass from The Hollywood Bowl, The John Anson Ford Theatre isn’t as well known as its famous cousin. That’s a shame, because the Ford offers its own stimulating program of outdoor summer concerts in a more intimate – and now gracefully updated – setting.

Culture Clash kicked off the newly renovated The Ford Theatre's summer season. (Photo: Timothy Norris)

The facility has just completed the first phase of an ambitious and quite handsome renovation and expansion. Upgraded seating, first-class sound and lighting, a reconfigured stage offering better sight lines, and an agreeable new pre-concert dining terrace are ready now for patrons to enjoy. Rehearsal space, administrative offices, new restaurants, and increased parking are planned for the future.

Southern Californians have Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to thank for raising the funds and executive director Olga Garay-English for curating a vibrant lineup of performers and artists reflecting Southern California's diversity and multi-cultural heritage.

Pacifico dancers joined in the fun. (Photo: Timothy Norris)

The new Ford launched its inaugural season last weekend with two lively events. On Saturday, tap wizard Savion Glover headlined. On Sunday, the Chicano comedy trio Culture Clash and a large assembly of gifted Hispanic musicians, dancers and comedians took over the open air stage, delivering a rambling, crowd-pleasing program of spirited entertainment and social satire.

The audience quickly learned what was in store when master of ceremonies Ric Salinas walked on stage, surveyed the sizeable audience, and declared, “The last time there were more Mexicans here was at the Battle of Cahuenga in 1831, or last night when they cleaned this place.”

A jubilant, defiant, and at times heartfelt celebration of Chicano humor, music and dance followed. That it continued for three and one-half hours didn’t seem to bother the appreciative audience. On the contrary, they hooted and clapped enthusiastically. At one point they flocked to the stage to dance with the entertainers.

La Victoria neo-Mariachi trio. (Photo: Timothy Norris)

Pacifico Dance Company opened the show and also performed impressively at several points in the program, presenting polished, energetic versions of traditional Mexican dances. The attractive troupe looked splendid in their colorful folkloric costumes. More importantly, they danced with artistry, precision, and showmanship throughout.

Punk rock singer/songwriter Alice Bag belted five protest songs with an emphatic political and feminist agenda. She aimed “(We Reject Your) Reign of Fear” squarely at Donald Trump, then got the audience to join her in the feminist anthem “No Means No.”

La Victoria offered a completely different, more refined musical experience. The female trio – they sing and play violin, guitar, and guitarrón (the large, deep-bodied Mexican guitar) – performed traditional Mariachi works along with recent compositions. It was lovely, soulful, and brief, leaving us wanting more.

Jazz-salsa-pop-R&B band La Tierra provided a big finish to a boisterous night. (Photo: Timothy Norris)

Comedians Rudy Moreno and Sandra Valls both executed sharply observed sets. Moreno lampooned marriage. (“Latin couples have kids and then wed. White couples get married first!“) Valls riffed on growing up gay, ordering chicken at a Pollo Loco drive-through, and on the irrational nature of Spanglish. (“Qué floor?” an elevator operator once asked her. “El Third,” she blurted out.)

After the funny stuff, Valls did a remarkable thing: she urged the audience not to feel hopeless in the face of the Trump administration’s attacks on Hispanics. She finished with a passionate, inspiring “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Not the way a comedy act usually signs off, but this was an anything-goes night.

The high-energy Latin-pop-jazz-salsa-R&B band Tierra came out last, bringing the audience to its feet. The band’s potent wall of sound style and driving rhythms would have blown the roof off the place, if only it had a roof.

The newly renovated, revitalized Ford Theatre. (Photo: Tom Bonner)

Where was Culture Clash in all of this? While its three members introduced the performers and interacted with them spontaneously all night, they did just one complete skit as a group, a barbed sendup called “Chicano Jeopardy” with Donald Trump as one of the contestants. Herbert Siguenza nailed Trump’s look, voice and pompous mannerisms. Watch out, Alec Baldwin, you’ve got competition!

As no one lampoons the juncture where Hispanic foibles and American politics converge better than this beloved comedy threesome, the evening’s only disappointment was that they did not do more of what they do best. Still, the exuberant spectacle the group put together to kick off the summer turned out to be the perfect way to spend a balmy night under the stars.

Thank you, Culture Clash. Welome back, Ford Theatre. We’re looking forward to spending many more enjoyable nights with you.

Look here for more about the summer concert series at Ford Theatres.

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