April 30, 2013

Review: Federal Jazz Project

The border between San Diego and Tijuana saw a different kind of xenophobic fear in in the early 1940's than what we're currently used to here in America.  Back then, according to Culture Clash alumus Richard Montoya and New Latin Jazz Quintet band leader Gilbert Castellanos' new stage show, Federal Jazz Project, the color of your skin seemed to matter much less than the color of your party affiliation.




And with one of the original founders of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, having lived in exile for years, preaching the gospel of the workers to the Chicanos around him before his assassination, the mix of poverty, ambition, and the Red Scare are a powerful combination that serves as the dramatic engine for this fantastic period play that is, officially, about a pair of talented sisters named after the two border towns.

But a closer look reveals that the heart and soul of the story is The Kidd, played by my good friend, Joe Hernandez-Kolski.

A cursory glance would have you believe that The Kidd is, at first, just an bright-smiling overeager promoter for the two Mexican sisters.  He's a character you would expect you could easily dismiss as just a plot device to showcase the amazing singing and tap dancing talents of Claudia Gomez and Lorraine Castellanos.

But as the story deepens, and the Second World War begins, the global fight against totalitarianism finds its way into the jazz club at the center of the show and smacks The Kidd's hopes and dreams right in the face.

As beautiful as the music and hilarious as Richard's own comic cameos are throughout the show, The Kidd's story helps unpack both the not-quite-unspoken Black and Brown racism of the time as well as the profoundly damaging legacy that political and racial climate has on some modern Mexican American children to this day.  And just as the sisters San Diego and Tijuana dazzled with their performances, The Kidd's raw emotional power is both a pleasure and a revelation.


Here's a bit from Joe himself about his relationship with Richard and how he came to be involved with this project.


Honestly, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the show, but, between the music, the dance, the drama, and the history, I was more than pleasantly surprised by how full and satisfying a meal Federal Jazz Project is.  This is their final weekend in the San Diego Repertory Theater, so I highly recommend anyone make the trip to the Gaslamp District and celebrate your Cinco de Mayo with this excellent show.  You won't be disappointed.



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