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Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company

Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company

Dan6
#1Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/17/23 at 5:24pm

Inspired by true events, the new musical Buena Vista Social Club™ brings the iconic Grammy-winning album of pulsing Afro-Cuban music thrillingly to the stage.

In 1950s Havana, a group of young musicians creates a sound that shakes the world of Cuban music—until the revolution changes everything. Forty years later, the band is brought back together to record the songs they left behind. With decades of heartbreak fueling every note, they unexpectedly go on to create the greatest-selling world music album of all time, immortalizing their songs and their legacy.

With a book by Marco Ramirez (The Royale), director Saheem Ali (Tony Nominee, Fat Ham) leads an ensemble of visionary performing artists, including a band of renowned musicians from across the globe and a music team led by David Yazbek (Tony Winner, The Band’s Visit), and choreography by Patricia Delgado (Spielberg’s West Side Story) and Justin Peck (Tony Winner, Carousel). Buena Vista Social Club™ is an homage to the artists of yesterday—the ones who survived upheaval and oppression to make the music they loved.

The show appears to be pretty much sold out except for the last couple of weeks of December, and just extended one week through January 7. First preview is tonight, and I can't wait to hear about this one! Who's going?

Updated On: 11/17/23 at 05:24 PM

kurtal
#2Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/18/23 at 12:41am

I was at the first preview tonight and thought this was incredibly successful.   The show had just enough book to keep it from being a concert while still making the music the actual star of the show.  I'm a little over cautious about spoilers, so here goes...

 

 
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All of the songs were left in the original Spanish while all of the book was in English.  I was wondering how that work work and if it would still feel both accessible to an audience and integrated with the plot.  And I thought it worked splendidly.  This was aided by the use of a brief narrative framing device in which one character speaks directly to the audience at the top of the show celebrating Cuban music and advocating for its acceptance into the canon alongside Mozart and other European greats.  Doing so put the focus on the music and the emotions it evokes rather than the lyrics.  And, in my opinion, it worked very well.

I appreciate a show that understands what it's trying to do; anticipates potential audience reactions to that; and develops dramaturgically sound ways to address any confusion.  In all of that, BVSC succeeded.  There's just enough historical content to provide context and allow for parallels to today without being heavy handed.

And the music is exceptional -- and is exceptionally performed.  

I thought this was superb.  Truly.  Not perfect...there are little tweaks in the book and some streamlining that could even further tighten what is a Broadway-ready show.  I was delighted by this show.

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CoffeeBreak
#3Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/18/23 at 12:52am

This show was mostly sold out.  They just extended and the thing to see.

Updated On: 11/18/23 at 12:52 AM

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Play Esq.
#4Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/18/23 at 5:35am

Kurtal -

Thank you so much for your early report! This was one of my favorite albums growing up and remains to this day (despite the fact that I am not a fluent Spanish speaker). I was excited about the prospect of this musical but now really looking forward to seeing this once it’s locked in December.  

Also, I clicked on your spoiler link: you outlined the general premise well along with providing the narrative structure without giving anything away…saying in case anyone was concerned about clicking the link. 

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Melissa25
#5Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/18/23 at 9:51am

Thanks for the early report too. Really looking forward to this. I’ll be there in two weeks.

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quizking101
#6Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/18/23 at 9:54am

I was quick on the buzzer and scored a rush tonight. Will report back. (My friend Arnie is doing the scenic design!)


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quizking101
#7Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/18/23 at 11:48pm

Grab a mojito, light up a cigar, and GET YOUR TICKETS NOW. This is going to be the HOT event off-Broadway. 

Using all of the songs from the famous album, it tells the story of the artists involved with the album growing up in 1940s and 50s revolutionary Cuba, and the choices they had to make for life, love, career, and their safety. The music is perfectly orchestrated and there is never a moment where you don’t want to shimmy in your seat and feel the urge to get up and join everyone on stage. The band is just as much a big part of the show as the actors and they get the honor of opening each act with a big splashy number that showcases them. The songs are indeed performed in all of the original Spanish, but the framing and script sets it up so well that you can easily figure context of each and every song.

 The set design properly evoked a 1950s Cuban nightclub, among other settings and has a moveable bandstand. Additionally, the choreography is very kinetic and always channels the energy of the club and not the stage - the only exception being some Latin-flavored balletic interludes that Justin Peck added as devices for further storytelling. You can also see his touch in the lifts during the faster-paced Latin choreography, evoking memories of his West Side Story choreography.

There were times during the 2:19 (incl. 15min intermission) that I even found myself closing my eyes for a second and letting the music just flow through me and it was delightful.

The performances are pitched perfectly as the show weaves through multiple timelines and uses actors for both the younger and older versions of the main singers, with the exception of one (that I won’t spoil for plot reasons). It could’ve tiptoed on being slightly “Follies”-esque, but managed to subvert that. Natalia Venetia Belcon is the far and away star of this production - bringing gravitas to the role of a faded singer past her glory days of the Cuban club scene after compromising herself and her family and friend relationships.


This has aspirations for Broadway and is already looking to be a sellout hit at Atlantic, so GO NOW! 

(My TodayTix rush was front row center, by the way)


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Updated On: 11/18/23 at 11:48 PM

ardiem
#8Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/19/23 at 12:31pm

How was the view from front row center?

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quizking101
#9Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/19/23 at 1:55pm

ardiem said: "How was the view from front row center?"

The stage is probably 2-2.5 feet high so there is no concern for neck stretching. The event that occur on the second level may cause a *little* strain but nothing prolonged.

From that vantage, you feel like your right in the middle of the story and the band definitely knows how to place off the audience's energy. The lead guitarist was riffing directly at me at the top of Act II and I was ABSOLUTELY feeling it. 


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Dan6
#10Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/19/23 at 2:51pm

kurtal and quizking, thanks so much for your early feedback. This sounds amazing. Just grabbed my tickets for my NY trip in early January (so grateful for the extension!). 

PipingHotPiccolo
#11Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/19/23 at 3:01pm

quizking101 said: "Grab a mojito, light up a cigar, and GET YOUR TICKETS NOW. This is going to be the HOT event off-Broadway.

Natalia Venetia Belcon is the far and away star of this production - bringing gravitas to the role of a faded singer past her glory days of the Cuban club scene after compromising herself and her family and friend relationships.


This has aspirations for Broadway and is already looking to be a sellout hit at Atlantic, so GO NOW!

 

This makes me so happy- Natalie Belcon was the best Joanne Jefferson I have seen in RENT, and then did some great work in some smaller Off Bway stuff. I know she had been in Matilda and Wicked since, but so happy to hear shes killing it in an original role like this.

annang
#12Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/20/23 at 7:55pm

What's the running time for this, approximately? Thanks!

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quizking101
#13Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 11/20/23 at 8:36pm

annang said: "What's the running time for this, approximately? Thanks!"

Advertised as 2 hours with 10 minute intermission. On my night, it was about 2:10 with a 15 minute intermission


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Melissa25
#14Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/6/23 at 10:02pm

I had such a good time at the social club last night.  The band and choreography were smoking.  The book could definitely use some character development but the music really is the star of this show.  Good staging, sets, costumes and lighting.  If you liked this album, this is a must-see.

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ErmengardeStopSniveling
#15Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/6/23 at 10:25pm

I need to be a dissenting voice here:

The music, musicianship, and choreography in this show are thrilling. The musicians have solo moments to really shine. The set makes perfect use of the Atlantic's space, and the sound design is great. The dance is HOT.

But it's all weighed down by a truly awful book. There is no effort to make us care about these characters. At some points it feels clunky and overwritten, at other points it feels shaved down to the bone.

This would have been so much better as a 75-minute After Midnight-style revue, done in a neighborhood where they could reach a broader Cuban American audience (like the United Palace or Apollo). Or on a cruise ship. But as far as a narrative book musical goes, I did not find it succeeded at all.

I know it has Broadway aspirations from the BAND'S VISIT producing team, but I really don't think there's a sellable, successful musical here. If they want to keep this as a book musical, start from page one with a new writer.

Updated On: 12/6/23 at 10:25 PM

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Play Esq.
#16Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/13/23 at 3:51pm

Am I wrong in thinking tonight is opening night?

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CoffeeBreak
#17Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/13/23 at 6:29pm

Updated On: 12/13/23 at 06:29 PM

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ErmengardeStopSniveling
#18Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/13/23 at 6:39pm

CoffeeBreak said: "The score, musicians and choreography (obviously Peck, despite double billing) - are fantastic."

Let's not discount Justin Peck's co-choreographer, Patricia Delgado, a talented choreographer/dancer who is also his wife and frequent collaborator and is of Cuban ancestry.

Like you said, the direction and the book are the major problems.

Updated On: 12/13/23 at 06:39 PM

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Play Esq.
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Sauja
#20Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/14/23 at 11:23am

I expected more unreserved praise, but it looks like the reviews are fairly solid all around. I wonder if we'll see it have legs. I'd definitely go check it out again.

BETTY22
#21Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/14/23 at 1:35pm

I guess the reviews are good enough.....

Personally, I enjoyed it. Was transported by the beautiful music. 

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Miss10036
#22Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/19/23 at 12:20am

Figured I'd chime in with another report since there aren't too many posts on here...

Saw this about two weeks ago and had a very enjoyable night out!  The music is the star of the show.  They've assembled such a talented cast of musicians and actor-musicians and it's thrilling to hear that burst of sound in such a small space, especially when you pair it with the lively choreography.  Highly recommend reading the cast bios at intermission because it's neat to see how varied everyone's backgrounds are.  The show does a good job of setting the tone with the opening narration and by kicking off each act with rousing numbers that get the audience clapping and in a celebratory mood.  As other posters have mentioned, the numbers are performed in Spanish, but I didn't find that to be a barrier to non-Spanish speakers enjoying the show.  The context and reason for the songs were always clear, and the actors did a great job of emoting so the meaning of the songs came through.  Honestly, as a non-speaker, I sometimes appreciated that I wasn't caught up trying to understand the lyrics and could just be transported by the sound.  The design elements were another highlight for me, especially the lighting design.  It's essentially one set, with a recording studio occasionally moving downstage when we're in the 90s.  Between her costumes for this and her nineties designs for Hell's Kitchen, I've really been liking Dede Ayite's work these past few weeks.

The book was the weakest aspect of the show in my view.  The flashes between past and present felt generally seamless, but some of the dialogue seemed clunky, especially the dialogue between Omara and her sister.  The book scenes were stronger when they focused on the relationships between the characters but tended to be less deft when they focused on addressing the political climate in Cuba.

The end of the first act doesn't exactly propel you into intermission and I found myself wondering at intermission whether it could be a one act show, since there isn't much story momentum driving into act two.  By the end of the show, though, I realized it probably would have been too much to listen to all that energetic music without interruption, so I get why there are two acts to give the musicians and audience a break.  Having two acts could feel more necessary, however.  The main quibble I had with the second act was that

 
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Young Omara's arc could have been developed better.  A lot happens during the second act—her sister flees Cuba, Omara signs with a colorist record label, and the club is shut down—so I'd expect to feel like I'm watching the character grow up in front of my eyes, but I didn't feel that very strongly.  I especially felt this during the scene closing down the club—the staging was effective and felt significant, but the actress's performance of the song she records during this scene could have shown more visible character development.  I suppose what I'm getting at is, I didn't feel as much of a connection between the younger and older Omara as I did with the older and younger versions of the other characters, and I felt like Kenya Browne (the actress palying younger Omara) could have done a better job of bridging that gap in the second act as she deals with so many challenges.

Though they're very different shows, some aspects made me think of The Band's Visit, namely the fact that the instrumentals felt so woven into the fabric of the show, plus (spoilers related to the ending)

 
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the framing line spoken by Juan the producer at the beginning and end—something in the vein of "this happened thousands of miles away but this kind of music tends to travel"—reminded me of the "it wasn't very important..." line in TBV.  And if I'm remembering TBV right, the show ended with Tewfiq about to conduct the orchestra, there's a blackout, and then we get the concert during curtain call.  Here, the full group is ready to record altogether, the producer says his framing line, blackout, and the show wraps up with curtain call and a reprise of Candela.

Overall I had a wonderful time, as did the audience around me. It was a very enthusiastic crowd, with two partial standing Os during the show and lots of folks bopping their heads along to the music throughout.  I heard positive buzz around me on the way out, so I'm not surprised that the rest of the run seems well-sold.

To add a data point on rush, my TodayTix rush seat was first row on the side.  Some minor obstructions when the actors would block each other, otherwise no issues.

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TaffyDavenport
#23Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/20/23 at 4:42pm

Saw the matinee today. Fantastic music and dancing, cringey-as-hell dialogue. Not sure if they're planning on transferring, but I don't see a viable place for it on Broadway. It's just too slight of a production, in my opinion. 

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ErmengardeStopSniveling
#24Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/21/23 at 2:38pm

TaffyDavenport said: "Saw the matinee today. Fantastic music and dancing, cringey-as-hell dialogue. Not sure if they're planning on transferring, but I don't see a viable place for it on Broadway. It's just too slight of a production, in my opinion."

It has a commercial producer behind it (Orin Wolf, of NETworks and Band's Visit) and is aiming for Broadway. But, like you, I do not see a place for it in the Broadway ecosystem without an entirely new book and a super compelling story.

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Play Esq.
#25Buena Vista Social Club at Atlantic Theater Company
Posted: 12/21/23 at 3:16pm

I always look forward to that one musical in December to lift my spirits, and generally rely upon either New York Theater Workshop or the Atlantic to scratch that itch (The Bands Visit, Kimberly, Once are my favourite examples).  Buena Vista Social Club was that  wondrous December musical I was looking for.  To be clear, it has many failings, but reliving the joyous music I listened to as a teenager live was intoxicating: until this, I haven't left a show smiling ear-to-ear in quite some time.

I think this has life on Broadway (or perhaps off), but I agree that it needs a deep rewrite.  An easy change: more music and less book.  This production used but a fraction of Buena Vista Social Club music that is available, and left so much from the 1997 untouched.  The book could easily be compressed by reducing (removing?) the story and limiting it to a series of vignettes.  Buena Vista Social Club (band, album, history) is so much more than about its members.  The music is the most important part.  It shines well in its current state, but it could shine brighter.  


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