A Los Angeles Theatre Review: ‘Ghost Waltz’

You can consider yourself fortunate when you watch good theatre that has meaningful diversity. But it’s not often that you come across a piece that enthralls you completely from beginning to end that when it’s over, you immediately wish for it to be seen all over the country, in both big and small theatres alike. Such is the case for the world premiere of Ghost Waltz at the Latino Theater Company, written by Oliver Mayer and directed by Alberto Barboza. The company has launched their 2024 season with a tremendous splash as Ghost Waltz is one of the most magnificent plays I have ever seen.

Developed in Latino Theater Company’s Circle of Imaginistas playwriting group, this new play by Oliver Mayer (Blade to the HeatMembers Only) is a boldly original recovery of Juventino Rosas, one of Mexico’s most significant classical composers — an Indigenous musician whose life story has gone untold and whose works have been attributed to Europeans. Following Rosas from his father’s early death to his friendship with ragtime genius Scott Joplin, Mayer mixes music, magic, drama, passion, spirituality and dance in a celebration that explores the lives of people of color during the emerging Americas of the late 19th century, and their ghost-like impact on our own lives today.

** All photos shown in this article are taken by Grettel Cortes Photography **

Eduardo Robledo and Quetzal Guerrero

First and foremost, it is important to state here that this review is based from the third preview performance on April 27, 2024 but considering that LATC was confident enough in this production’s state to let me review this was an incredible testament to how rock solid the production already is. Because if it was THIS good from when I watched it? Then Ghost Waltz has a fantastic journey ahead of them because the core is firmly vibrant and beautiful, particularly for its opening night which will be later tonight!

Bass player Juan Perez and and music director Alberto López

When the play starts, you will notice right away musicians setting up on the right side of the stage and actors with their violin, guitar, and accordion. And it was here that I knew I was in for a special treat as live music was effortlessly incorporated into the fabric of this play. While there is music and singing, this is not a musical but more of a play with music elements. It is here we are introduced to our ensemble cast with the titular role of Juventino Rosas (Quetzal Guerrero), his father, Don Jesus (Eduardo Robledo), his mentor Professor Zeiss (Cástulo Guerra), and Ángela Peralta, the “Mexican Nightingale” (Nathalie PeñaComas). As they each come on stage with their violin, guitar, accordion, and their extraordinary opera voice respectively, we are immediately thrown into this magical reality play.

Quetzal Guerrero

Quetzal Guerrero is our anchor in a extraordinary leading performance as Juventino Rosas. He gives the real-life legend gravitas, charm, wonder, and most importantly, respect, as he deftly combines his acting talent with his violin talent as he deftly switches back and forth in artistic expression. Eduardo Robledo is uproariously hilarious and touching as Rosas’ father, Don Jesus, as he watches his son in the afterlife and comments on all the events of the play that happen. Cástulo Guerra as Professor Zeiss is the perfect comedic foil to Robledo’s character as both of these men serve as competing father figures not only in life but in the afterlife. Plus, Guerra busts out a mean accordion which always brought a huge smile to my face (accordions have that effect).

Cástulo Guerra and Eduardo Robledo

The character of Ángela Peralta (aka the “Mexican Nightingale”) is an opera singer but one of my biggest surprises is that the production legit has an actual opera singer playing the role via Nathalie PeñaComas in her first U.S. stage acting role. Opera singing is immensely challenging for the vocal chords so for Peña–Comas to convey the unyielding pride in her assimilation and shame in her origins while also belting out opera is just mind-blowing.

If you’re catching the drift that I’m heaping nothing but praise for the entire ensemble cast, wait, there’s more. Ric’key Pageot is just dynamite as Scott Joplin and imbues so much charisma, swagger, power, and compassion that courses through his acting as well as his piano playing. Those same adjectives apply equally to Ariel Brown as Bethena who is simply beautiful in her ambition to fulfill her own dreams while dealing with the complicity of feeling love for both Joplin and Rosas. Their storyline resolves in one of the most refreshing breathtaking resolutions that I have ever seen in film or theatre when it comes to the love triangle trope and serves as one of the strongest pillars of what makes this play so special beside this badly needed story and the wonderful live music.

Ric’key Pageot and Ariel Brown

Last but not least, is Monte Escalante as the Creole clairvoyant Marie Leveau. Serving as the bridge between the living and the dead, Escalante is captivating anytime she is on stage and added so much to the bickering dynamic between Don Jesus and Professor Zeiss when they are all commenting on Rosas’ life in the afterlife.

Monte Escalante

A huge shoutout to all the production team members which include production designers Cameron Jaye Mock and Emily Anne McDonald (set, lights, costumes, and projections), sound designer Nathan Davis, assistant director Giovanni Ortega, production stage manager Yaesol Jeong, and assistant stage manager Mikayla Bettner.

Each and every one of these members played such an essential part in making this play so vibrant and a special acknowledgement to the stage managers for the production running as smooth as it did on its preview performance. Understandably all theatre have hiccups here and there, but if it’s already looking and sounding this good, then it’s only good things from here.

From L to R: Eduardo Robledo, Ariel Brown, Quetzal Guerrero and Ric’key Pageot

I can’t speak nothing but praise for Ghost Waltz and with the gorgeous writing of Oliver Mayer, the assured and passionate direction of director Alberto Barboza and music director Alberto López, I cannot wait for all of you who live in the Los Angeles area to watch this. It is a story that gives much joy and justice to Juventino Rosas AND Scott Joplin as the intersectional relationship with both Latino and Black perspectives are what makes this a distinctly important play that highlights the best of diverse storytelling in its finest form.

Quetzal Guerrero, Nathalie Peña-Comas, and Ric’key Pageot

WHO:
• Written by Oliver Mayer
• Directed by Alberto Barboza
• Music Direction by Alberto López
• Starring Ariel BrownMonte EscalanteCástulo GuerraQuetzal Guerrero, Ric’key PageotNathalie PeñaComasEduardo Robledo
• Produced by Latino Theater Company
 

WHEN:
Performances:
 May 4–June 2
• Thursdays at 8 p.m.: May 9; May 16; May 23; May 30
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: May 10; May 17; May 24; May 31
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: May 4 (opening); May 11; May 18; May 25; June 1
• Sundays at 4 p.m.: May 5; May 12; May 19; May 26; June 2

WHERE:
The Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles CA 90013

PARKING:
• $8 with box office validation at Los Angeles Garage Associate Parking structure, 545 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 (between 5th and 6th Streets, just behind the theater)
• Metered parking available on streets surrounding the theater.
• Take the Metro: nearest stop is Pershing Square (two blocks west of The LATC)

TICKET PRICES:
$10-$48
 (except opening night)
• Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (except opening night, May 4): $48
• Students, Seniors, Veterans and LAUSD teachers: $20 with valid ID
• All Thursday night performances and previews: $10
• Opening night (May 4): $75 (includes post-performance reception)

HOW:
www.latinotheaterco.org
(213) 489-0994