Review: Empanada Loca

I was excited to see Daphne Rubin-Vega take on a one-woman show at the Labyrinth Theatre last night and I was not let down at all. She is a much better actress than she is a singer (years of performing Rent and The Rocky Horror Show will do that to you, I suppose).

It was my friend Steve’s first time seeing her live onstage and he was excessively excited. We took our front row seats and waited as the lights went down and DRV came out, in the darkness at first, and started speaking, presumably to us.

Empanada Loca was about a woman named Dolores who was living underneath the subways after what some would consider a challenging life. Her mother was shot, her father died, and then the drug dealer with whom she was in a relationship set her up and she went to prison for 13 years. Loca was inspired by the well-known tale of Sweeney Todd about the barber who would kill his enemies in the barber chair and Mrs. Lovett would bake the human flesh into pies. DRV was essentially a gritty, streetwise Mrs. Lovett, who killed people on her massage table (a trade she’d picked up in the tombs) in her apartment below Empanada Loca and the owner bakes the people into his empanadas. Read on for the twist ending….

The twist? The lights go down and you hear the sounds of her lunging forth at something, the person she’s been talking to. After lighting a trash can on fire, begins roasting a large rat. So, that’s who she’s been talking to the entire time – a rat. We were jolted, having thought she was talking to the audience the entire time. The audience is now aware that she is 100% so we’re left wondering, what was true about her story?

We’ll never know.

DRV really the audiences attention for the entire 100 minutes. This is really worth seeing should you have the chance to make it down to Bank Street. DRV came out rather quickly after the show, and we couldn’t help ourselves to a photo with her. She really is just the sweetest. Oh, and there was definitely a Rent fan there with a Rent t-shirt on which was much appreciated by DRV.

Just two kids who met when they were 11 in the Theatre chatroom on AOL because of a mutual love of Rent with Daphne Rubin Vega. We’re pretty sure our friendship peaked at that moment. 

I’d been really slow with getting around to see the newest revival of Les Miserables. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that I was seeing another revival? Oh wait, yes, it was. And listening to the monstrosity that was Nikki James’ voice on the Tonys, I wanted to wait until she was out. BUT I saw this production last Saturday afternoon and I loved it. Still. I saw Les Miserables three or four times as a kid and it was one of my first “favorite” shows. I was looking forward to seeing the new staging but also worried. Les Miserables without a turn table?! WHAT?!

They’ve taken the show and made it a bit more like the movie. But don’t worry – it still clocks it at around 3 hours. I was sort of dreading seeing a three-hour show, because… 90-minutes-no-intermission is the standard for new shows these days so we’ve been spoiled. But I had no trouble sitting through Les Miserables in all of it’s depressing and humorous glory. The cast brought many tiny nuances that I don’t remember noticing from the last production(s) which brought it more to life for me.

Ramin Karimloo, who stole everyone’s heart in the 25th anniversary concert at Marius, was fantastic at Jean Valjean. Except that he looked like a Backstreet Boy in the first few scenes. If he was in jail for 19 years, he went into jail when he was about 5. His voice is fantastic, his acting was fantastic, and he is ripped so they used whatever opportunity they could find to have him take his shirt off – which was very odd for a Valjean to do, but we suffered through.

Nikki M. James, I’m happy to report, only sounds like a bag of dying cats during what you saw on the Tonys (One Day More). Otherwise she’s playful and endearing, and her On My Own is great.

Cassie Levy was fantastic as Fatine. It’s such a small role so that’s unfortunately but I love her and her voice. She is just beautiful and amazing. That’s all I can say.

Keala Settle and Cliff Saunders as the Thenardiers were hilarious, as they should be. No complaints.

Earl Carpenter as Javert, joining Broadway from the London production, was great too. He did was Javert was supposed to do and he didn’t sound like Russell Crowe. We were happy campers.

As much as theatre snobs like myself usually hate projections, they were used sparingly and really added a lot to the show. I thoroughly enjoyed this 3-hour tour-de-france and I could do it again and again if you asked me to.

Put your theatre snobbyness aside, get over the loss of the turntable, and go.

I saw Les Miserables on Christmas Day with my family last week. It had a few issues, but overall, it was magical. Les Miserables was the first Broadway show I ever saw multiple times. I knew every word. I belted a kick-ass fifteen bars from On My Own when I was a senior in high school for an audition for Les Miserables (I didn’t get it, but that’s okay). My neighbor brought home an Eponine-esque beret from France which I eventually had Christina Michelle Riggs (a former Eponine on Broadway) sign.  

I appreciated that all the singing was live. I loved seeing detailed scenes, and how disgusting the circumstances were that the poor actually lived in (I didn’t love that, per se, but it was very, very informative). Aaron Tveit and Eddie Redmayne owned their characters, Enjolras and Marius respectively. Anne Hathaway has a much better voice that I initially thought from the first clips we heard of her singing and was wonderful as Fantine. Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, was also great, though his tenor range was a little lacking. And although I’d heard that Russell Crowe completely ruined the movie, I didn’t think he was all that bad. Sure, he couldn’t hold the last note of Stars, but that’s okay. He acted the part well. Amanda Seyfried was enjoyable as Cosette, although she sounded like a hummingbird whenever she had to sustain a note for longer than 2 seconds. Samantha Barks, the only unknown in the movie, was heartbreaking as Eponine and vocally great. Daniel Huttlestone and Isabelle Allen, as Gavroche and young Cosette, were both adorable. Daniel was especially witty, though I wished he had the chance to sing more of “Little People” before being shot.

My favorite song in the movie was, hands down, “Do You Hear the People Sing?.” It was a perfect representation of the people rallying together for change. Very reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street. I would go watch that scene 15 more times if I could. I loved seeing how the barricade was actually built (out of discarded furniture), and I especially loved that the iconic draping of Enjolras’ dead body over the barricade, after the battle, was kept in the movie. 

Aside from the plethora of close-ups, I think the movie was done incredibly well with a stellar cast. I highly suggest you go check it out while it’s in theatres.