Off-Broadway Review: “Errol and Fidel” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Off-Broadway Review: “Errol and Fidel” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson
Music by Peter Kaldor, John Kaldor and Doug Oberhamer
Lyrics by Boyd Anderson
Directed by Michael Bello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Errol and Fidel,” part of the New York Musical Festival 2017, retells the story of Errol Flynn’s (played with just the right Hollywood bravado by Jonathan Stewart) visit to Havana in 1958 during the shooting of his self-produced B film “Cuban Rebel Girls” where he met Fidel Castro (played with rich revolutionary ruggedness and charm by George Psomas). Flynn is at first enamored by Castro, then becomes disappointed and eventually leaves Cuba. The musical “imagines” what the visit might have been like since Flynn writes very little about Cuba or Castro in his autobiography published a year following his death in 1959.

The account, under Michael Bello’s inventive direction, chronicles Castro’s rise to power, the concerns of the Cuban people about the revolution and adds intriguing bits of espionage, bravado, machismo (Flynn’s and Castro’s), love interests, and cultural divides. The book by Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson is interesting as are the former’s lyrics; however, neither are remarkable. The lack of Latino performers is somewhat appalling. Could Latino Rebels not also portray American CIA agents?

All things USA are treated as comedic. The CIA under Rimmer’s (played with a smarmy core by Alam M-L Wager) leadership is inept. When he and his agents appear together on stage, they are often found standing at a row of urinals (one cannot make this up) then zipping up as they tap dance. Rimmer (I know, right?) is a buffoon and his right-hand Agent Goode (played with steely resolve by Ryan Bauer-Walsh) does not fare much better. There are allusions to Number 45 and to gun control. Fidel queries Errol, “Americanos they like the guns, no?” Errol replies, “Yes, but not on other people.”

Rimmer is a sexist so the script is laced with sexist remarks. And the disparaging term “queers” shows up in “Daiquiris Mijitos” – always a red flag for this queer reviewer. But lyricist Boyd Anderson needed a word to rhyme with “appears.” Or was it perhaps the other way around? And the beat goes on.

There are three songs that stand out (of the twenty-some in the musical): the lovely “Hialeah” sung by Lola (played with a powerful and resolute core by Claire Saunders) and Mima (played with heartfelt sincerity and wit by the brilliant Sydia Cedeno) with delicious harmonies and tones, “El Gigante” sung by the Rebels, and “What Am I Doing” the duet sung by Lola and Fidel. The remainder are of a variety of musical genres and pleasing enough. The choreography by Justin Boccitto is adequate but derivative: The Fosse-esque routine lacks the requisite precision and execution to be effective. There are many obtuse (and obvious) references to the canon of Hollywood films which movie buffs will enjoy (“I’m ready for my close-up”).

“Errol and Fidel” is indeed a work in progress. The audience at the performance I attended responded with enthusiasm and a standing ovation. The musical simply did not engage me in any significant way.