By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If you'd never seen a river portrayed on stage by actors holding long swaths of silky blue cloth, waving them up and down to make the "water" ripple, then the images evoked in The Magic Rainforest, An Amazon Journey would seem, well, magical. But unless you're 8 — about minimum age for this show, given some of its heavy themes — so much about the production of the new play-with-music by José Cruz González, presented by Cara Mia Theatre at the Latino Cultural Center, will feel recycled. It's been done before and done better in The Lion King, The King & I (the "run, Eliza, run" sequence), The Wizard of Oz and other shows.
Directors Jeffrey Colangelo and David Lozano have packed Magic Rainforest with fanciful creatures and broad performances, but the energy keeps sagging, as if the show's batteries are running down. Original music by Fabricio Farfan is pleasant but repetitive in its Brazilian-influenced guitar-and-flute melodies. Dialogue is cryptic and hard to hear.
Ricco Fajardo plays "Aki," a Moses-like child of the Amazon rainforests straddling life on land and in another world beneath the water, where enchanted dolphins dwell. He's sent by his uncle on a vision quest to vanquish the "fire demon" burning the forests down for development (be ready for a heavy environmentalist message). A sloth, a parrot, a turtle, a talking potato and a scary jaguar cross Aki's path (portrayed by puppets designed by Frida Espinosa-Müller). He falls in love with a pretty girl named Estrela (Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso).
The production is pretty to look at, with the stage at the Latino Cultural Center (one of the worst performance spaces in town acoustically) sporting long ribbons of colorful fabric to portray the dense jungle. Performers Louden Bongfledt, Joe Chapa, Devin Christopher, Sasha Maya Ada Davis, Natalia Dubrov, Ana Gonzalez, Jonah Gutierrez, Ivan Jasso and Dean Wray leap and twirl, shouting their lines, dodging in and out of shadowy lighting by Linda Blase.
At just over 90 minutes, it feels too long. And except for the enchanted dolphins, this forest holds little excitement on the journey to been-there-before.