Chicago Theatre Review
Clemente: Triumphant and Sad
By Lazlo Collins
I was intrigued by the Chicago Premiere of NightBlue Performing Company’s “Clemente: The Legend of 21”. Being a former Pittsburghian, his story, in this fanatical sports city, is indeed legendary. His rise to popularity and philanthropy is most impressive. The short of it is this. Roberto Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and helped bring them to a World Series win in 1971. The following year, he died on 31 Dec. in a tragic plane crash. He was only 38 years old. His plane crashed leaving from his native Puerto Rico shortly after take off. He was on a humanitarian mission, taking supplies to Nicaragua following a devastating earthquake.
The basics of Mr. Clemente’s life are covered in this two act “musical”. This sometimes touching treatment takes the audience through his days as a poor youth in Puerto Rico, his early ball club days, his rise to stardom, and relationship with his wife Vera.
He was great at the game but often misunderstood by the press and team mates. He made an impression on the American people at a time when anyone darker than white, was met with suspicion and judgement. (How far have we really come?) His access was limited by the laws of the land in his early career.
But everyone loves a hero that stands for the good of others, and is great player of the All- American Past-time.
This production does a great job at covering the highlights of Mr. Clemente’s career. The overall feel of the piece is both tender and celebratory. The cast seemed ready to go, and had great energy. The script puts a supernatural spin on the story, with circumstances and numbers associated with Roberto Clemente.
Modesto Lacen’s portrayal of adult Roberto Clemente was complex and energetic. He appears well versed in the role. He has a striking resemblance to the character, and plays this hero’s tale with ease. As his devoted wife, Lorraine Velez is both touching and sweet. It is clear they are familiar with each other and the material. I especially liked her song interpretations.
The young actors (Jonatthan Amaro and Elvin Ramos) portraying Roberto and his brother Matino as boys, brought their exuberant youth to life. They showed the brothers rivalry and ultimate affection foe each other rather well.
Mr. Clemente’s parents, lovingly played by Willie Denton and Ximara Rodriquez, added just the right touch of parental sweetness to the show.
Carlos Miranda’s interpretation playing Mr. Clemente’s brother Matino as an adult perplexed me in in the show. It seemed a bit forced for me, especially during the emotional scene after the death of Martin Luther King. They had an odd “Dying Gaul” moment. (and although I get the reason for an MLK reference, it seemed to stall the story) And although the show in general had some sound issues, Mr. Miranda brought a tenderness to the part, but he was hard to understand.
An audience pleaser and stand out performance came from Ricardo Puente. His various portrayals of men surrounding Mr. Clemente’s life; Ramiro Martinez, Roberto Marin, and Don Oscar, were superb. With larger mustache and arresting hair piece Mr. Puente recalls his impressions for Roberto Clemente with strong meaning, and easy storytelling. He drew the audience in with his every word. His singing voice was just as lovely too.
Casey Hayes stood out among the young and vivacious chorus throughout the trek from scene to scene.
The set was well used and simple in it’s scope. The ball park back drop with projections added just the right amount of transporting scenic qualities needed to keep us in the right place.
Some scenes were done entirely in Spanish. And although, I could understand 25% of what was being said it seemed to pull me out of the story. I thought it was odd, until I learned that the night I was there, the subtitle projections were not in play. I believe they will be in play from now on. This will ensure everyone can can enjoy what is being said. (I actually like the use of all Spanish dialogue for authenticity and time)
And although there was music in the show and actors sang, I had a hard time calling this a musical. The music seemed incidental, and used to set the scene or mood. The music (although enjoyable) much too loud. Having no amplification, it was hard to hear the actors singing.
This production will continue to be a poignant and tender telling of a story for the ages. A man moved to greatness through his natural talents. It shows the the road is may be difficult to fame and notoriety. And, of course, the tragic fate that befell such a beloved figure.
I know in Pittsburgh, his professional resonance cans still be felt. A city that still looks to the ocean for answers.
“Clemente: The Legend of 21” runs through 14 Sept. at Stage 773 on Belmont Ave. in Chicago. For tickets go to www.stage773.com or call box office at 773-327-5252. For additional information go to www.nightbluetheater.com
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visitingwww.theatreinchicago.com.