Since Ry Cooder discovered the Buena Vista Social and turned a group of humble musicians into top-selling artists, people have retained their affection for Cuban music. Judging by the buzzing capacity audience at Lady Salsa on the night I attended, the melting pot of music still has the power to energise.
Trinidad Roland is the lady of the title, a renowned actress and singer discovered in Cuba by writer/director Toby Gough. This enigmatic minx has a fascinating tale to tell of gangsters, revolution, glamour, music and passion. With the lady herself on stage throughout her story, this provides the piece with authenticity and heart.
Superb musicians, dancers and vocalists add colour to the true life story of this remarkable woman. Narrator Felix Miguel Ramirez Lopez is a tad too cheesily realised in comparison with the great Lady herself, but he keeps the action flowing with his links. Leonel Roberto Gamboa Almaguer and Roclan Gonzalez Chavez both whip the audience into a frenzy with their pitch-perfect vocals and great stage presence.
The stage is filled with colour and movement. Chavez's stunning choreography involves you at every turn, and at times you feel transported to another world through the power of dance. Elio Rives' dazzling array of costumes oozes sex appeal as do the dancers wearing them.
Well-known Cuban classics such as "Guantanamera" and "Chan Chan" evoke another time and place. You can almost smell the cigars and taste the cocktails as the mesmerising music enables you to forget about your hectic day.
Occasionally, some of Cuban history feels a bit too laboured and simplistic in its approach. Some members of the audience may want to find out more about the country; others will be more than happy with the dance lessons as opposed to an in-depth history lesson.
Every touring venue will be transformed by this wonderful show into a vibrant party full of smiling faces. The energy on stage reaches far out to the stalls and beyond. When the singers ask you to stand up, you do so willingly because unlike some 'forced' audience participation scenes in many musicals, you know that this is not a cheap ploy to fake a standing ovation.
Lady Salsa is a colourful, sexy, energetic and life-affirming show.
Surrender to its charms and you are in for a wild night out.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Opera House, Manchester)