What “Forever Plaid” did for all-white male quartet pop of the 1950s, Off Broadway tuner “4 Guys Named Jose … and Una Mujer Named Maria” does for Latin ballads that have become standards throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Conceived by legit producer David Coffman and Latina magazine editor Dolores Prida, the simple plot allows a talented five-member ensemble to have their way with 41 songs, ranging from ’40s boleros to rock en Espanol. Helmer Jules Aaron keeps the pace swift and light, but many of the numbers are undermined by the lackluster accompaniment of the onstage instrumental trio led by musical director Darryl Archibald.
The show’s throwaway premise is established as four Latino buddies, all named Jose and residing in snow-drenched Omaha, Neb., decide that meeting regularly at Burrito World is not enough to assuage their homesickness. Each is from a different homeland (Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba), and they decide to celebrate their roots by putting on a show at the local VFW hall, enhanced by the presence of young college student Maria (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer).
The proceedings bog down occasionally as the guys clownishly vie for her favors, but the show offers an impressive retrospective of some truly memorable Latin hits.
The singers display an impressive understanding of the various musical genres, but the accompanying trio is woefully inadequate when attempting the pulsating underscoring needed to communicate the music of Prado, Puente and Martin.
Accompaniment and performances are at their best when concentrating on the softer, more melody-oriented ballads. Each of the Joses displays impressive vocal dexterity in a series of solo showcases. Highlights include the soaring renditions of “Te Quiero Dijiste/Magic in the Moonlight” and “Santiago” by Jose Dominicano (Benjamin Perez); the comically endearing “Besame Mucho” and heartfelt “Nostalgia Habanera” of Jose Cubano (Gustavo Rex); the melodious “Frenesi” sung by Jose Boricua (Alberto Stevans) and comically translated by Maria, as well as Boricua’s emotional “En Mi Viejo San Juan”; and homeland tribute “Veracruz” from Jose Mexicano (Dan Pacheco).
The true highlight of the production is the comically endearing performance of Gonzalez-Nacer as the much put-upon Maria, who wholeheartedly commits to every absurdity thrown at her. When she isn’t side-stepping the advances of the Joses, she more than holds her own vocally with the plaintive “Piensa en Mi” and the hard-driving Gloria Estefan hit “Conga.”
The production is further enhanced by the thematically correct costumes of Nadine Parkos (especially those worn by the Gonzalez-Nacer) and the understated, salsa-tinged choreography of Ramon del Barrio.