Ricky Martin, just about the hottest pop thing going these days, started his sold-out Staples Center show with his huge party hit "Livin' La Vida Loca," a kick-off move that may sound like a bold strategy, getting the over-played smash song out of the way early, and all.

Ricky Martin, just about the hottest pop thing going these days, started his sold-out Staples Center show with his huge party hit “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” a kick-off move that may sound like a bold strategy, getting the over-played smash song out of the way early, and all.

But the still-seated crowd seemed caught off guard by the big opening, and it wasn’t until about halfway into the glitzy 90-minute perf that both performer — who’s halfway into a 24-city U.S. itinerary — and audience seemed in synch.

Following a video introduction that showed Martin, 27, in a fantasy sequence driving his Mustang (Ford Motor is a tour sponsor) while fleeing faux fans and paparazzi, the smiling singer appeared in the flesh on the elaborately designed stage atop his car (complete with a familiar fast food antenna ball), and launched into “La Vida” before attendees knew what hit them.

The ensuing grandiose production — comprising equal parts Las Vegas glitz, Salsa club energy and rock concert cliche — featured a mix of many of the songs from Martin’s 6-month old, multi-platinum English-language debut “Ricky Martin” (C2/Columbia), along with the best from his previous four Sony-released Spanish collections.

But take away all the scantily-clad dancers, eye-catching stage construction, huge video screens, myriad light rigs and the big, busy and talented band, and what’s left is simply a good-looking guy whose relentless energy and infectious personality overshadow a lack of artistic depth.

Martin stated early in the show that “we’re uniting the Americas,” but if that was a reference to the ensuing music offered here, then his idea of integrative music is overwrought power ballads (“Love You for a Day”) and schmaltzy attempts at eclecticism (the Santana-wannabe “Marcia Balla”).

“Spanish Eyes,” a mid-show upbeat Latin rocker dedicated to Martin’s home of Puerto Rico, featured a rare chance for the big band to tear loose, and this was as close as the star came to achieving a real connection with his now-awake audience.

The video that followed, showing Martin watching himself perform in a club, quickly blew that mood.

“Vuelve,” the title track from his 1998 Spanish-language album, offered a mildly interesting songwriting twist, going from a tender acoustic guitar intro to a hard rock climax, while the childish “Shake Your Bob-Bon” was accompanied by lots of video close-ups of the female dancers’ mid-sections, prompting the evening’s loudest applause.

Elsewhere, conveyor belts and randomly rising platforms transported Martin and his fellow entertainers about and above the eye-catching stage. At one point Martin was under a bright spotlight banging away at a set of bongo drums, looking much better than he sounded.

If nothing else, this ultimately tedious show was a reminder that it is success and money that create these impressive concert spectacles, not necessarily talent.

Martin’s sold-out tour hits the Anaheim Pond on Saturday.

Ricky Martin

Staples Center; 20,000 seats; $95 top

Production

Presented by Nederlander, MTV, Pepsi-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co. Reviewed Nov. 13, 1999.

Cast

Band: Janusz Bakun, David Cabrera, Hector Infanzon, Danny Lopez, Waldo Madera, Carlos David Perez, Frankie Perez, Madeline Rosado, Jose Sibajas, Arnaldo Torres, Victor Vazquez
Musical director: Arturo Ortiz; dance captain: Nikki Pantenburg.
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