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El Grande de Coca-Cola
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwrights: Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman, and John Neville-Andrews

At: Berger Park Coach House, 6215 N. Sheridan Rd. Tickets:; $20-$60. Runs through: Sept. 29

Down a margarita or two before seeing El Grande de Coca-Cola—they are available for purchase before the show or included in a dinner-and-show combo ( taco bar and open bar ). Y'see, El Grande de Coca-Cola is designed to be a really tacky testament to minimal competence, with over-the-top gaudiness ( Diane Hamm, costumes ) and considerably-under-the-top talent in so-bad-it's-good fashion.

A '70s international hit, this little show first was seen in Chicago close to 40 years ago. There have been few local productions since then, perhaps in part because its south-of-the-border cantina setting and comic pidgin Spanish might be regarded as insults to Latin culture, especially in the Trump era. This new version employs a Latinx cast and director.

In truth, one could take the El Grande de Coca-Cola concept and easily translate it to a French or Yiddish or Greek or whatever context because silly, endearing, grandiose and talentless performers can be found in every culture! Perhaps the same may be said of critics ( not me, of course ).

So cantina owner Don Pepe Hernandez ( Johnny Garcia ) has lured you in with the promise of international stars. Surprise—they don't show up! Instead, Don Pepe and his family throw together a nightclub show involving many costume changes and every bad act you can imagine: acrobats, a magician, tango dancers, a mentalist, German punk rockers, bad ballet and pseudo-Spanish Shakespeare ( "Un burro, un burro! Espana por un burro!" ). They not only are bad but also clumsy, and much of the humor comes from head-banging and pratfalls. Slapstick is not to all tastes, so be warned and finish your margarita.

Director/choreographer John Martinez and producer Frank Pullen abandon much of the original script and music, instead providing more contemporary updates. I might be the only one who knows that—so long ago was this show last seen locally—and it doesn't matter, because the show's concept is everything while the format is meant to be elastic.

Martinez is a skilled choreographer intentionally making it bad, but even so it's clear that lithe Pauleth Jauregui ( as Consuelo Hernandez ) and toothy Christian Valdivieso ( Miguel Hernandez ) have real dancing chops. The best comic business goes to Sophie Hernando Kofman ( as Maria Hernandez ) and Richard Gomez ( master of droll facial expressions as Juan Rodriguez ). As Don Pepe, dressed in all-white formal tails, Garcia for better-or-worse channels ultimate Latino TV host Don Francisco

El Grande de Coca-Cola essentially is a one-trick pony, so the one-hour running time is about right for this sort of fluff, and the intimate lakefront locale is ideal. Kick back with a rum-and-Coke and enjoy.

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