The idea of instilling Afro-Cuban music and folklore into Langston Hughes' short story of Harlem hucksters setting out to fleece gullible members of New York's Park Avenue society is clever enough but this adaptation by Joe Teisdan and Lenore Marquez is painfully inadequate, as is the staging by Dan Shore.

The idea of instilling Afro-Cuban music and folklore into Langston Hughes’ short story of Harlem hucksters setting out to fleece gullible members of New York’s Park Avenue society is clever enough but this adaptation by Joe Teisdan and Lenore Marquez is painfully inadequate, as is the staging by Dan Shore. The production moves at an awkward, under-rehearsed pace and is totally lacking in vitality, despite the presence of the masterful Cuban singer-percussionist Lazaro Galarraga, Latin jazz artist Nelson Marquez and the earnest efforts of a 23-person ensemble.

Set in the early 1930s, Teisdan and Marquez fail to establish a believable throughline in the improbable misadventures of Cuban-born con man Lesche (William Marquez) and his fast-talking partner Sol Blum (Valente Rodriguez).

Director Shore offers no help while the action stumbles from scene to scene as Lesche and Blum attempt to fleece the rich by creating a life-center rejuvenating “Colony of Joy” around the mystical Afro Cuban folklorico skills of Lesche’s sister Luna (Ivonne Colle) and her band of musicians and dancers.

Galarraga and Nelson Marquez have no real part in the dramatic flow of the scenes and appear uncomfortable when called upon to offer any dialogue at all. However, their musical offerings, along with the emotion-packed vocalizing of Colle, are charming if undervolumed.

It is a shame that the onstage percussion of Gallaraga and keyboard work of Marquez are not amplified enough by Kirk Bruner’s malnourished sound design to provide the energy needed to truly communicate the rhythmic pulse of such Afro-Cuban musical offerings as “Obatala,” “Que Viva Chango,” “Ave Maria Morena,” “Oggun Afere Yo” and “Ochun.”

William Marquez is simply not believable as the would-be guru whose supposed magnetic presence and virtuoso abilities on the dance floor induce a bevy of society ladies to part with their cash just for the opportunity to have “private lessons” with him.

Marquez never appears comfortable with his dialogue and, as choreographed by Kim Blank, Lesche’s turns with a series of society damsels (Cha Cha Sandoval, Myriam Tubert, Wendy Cutler, Elizabeth Gamza, Erica Ortega) are rudimentary at best. Rodriguez is much more entertaining as his motor-mouthed, hyperactive partner, Sol.

Colle lends a warm, earth mother presence as Luna, and Bruner is quite effective as the harried real estate agent who is always being outsmarted by Sol. The performances of the rest of the ensemble range from adequate to downright amateurish.

Caderas

Los Angeles Theatre Center; 498 seats; $20 top

Production

LA Diversified Theater Group, in association with the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Dept., presents a musical play in two acts by Joe Teisan & Lenore Marquez, based on the short story "Rejuvenation Through Joy" by Langston Hughes. Directed by Dan Shor. Executive producer, William Marquez; producers, Denise Blasor & Gloria Charles. Music director, Lazaro Galarraga; music by Man Go Bang; choreographer, Kim Blank.

Cast

Cast: Lazaro Galarraga (Himself), William Marquez (Lesche), Valente Rodriguez (Sol Blum), Ivonne Coll (Luna), Maggie Palomo (Radcliffe Gal), Denise Blasor (Queenie McCullough), Newton Kaneshiro (Van Kulmer-Jones), Nelson Marquez (Chico Quintana), Cha Cha Sandoval (Mrs. Duveen Althouse), Myriam Tubert (Mrs. Oscar Willis), Wendy Cutler (Baroness Langstrund), Elizabeth Gamza (Mrs. Ken Prather II), Erica Ortega (Miss Zelda), Kirk Bruner (Mr. Harvey Proser), Julian Scott Urena (Johnny Stecco), Gus Arquello (Thug). Ensem-ble/musicians/dancers: Richard Marquez, Pedro Aguilar, Walter Patterson, Alina Mesa, Alina Cenal, C. Juliette Blasor, Elizaberth Teisan.
Set design, Vance Valencia & Denise Blasor; costume design, Blasor; lighting design, Doc Ballard; sound design, Kirk Bruner. Opened Feb. 12, reviewed Feb. 14; runs until Feb. 22. Running time: two hours.
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