"Real Women Have Curves" - Joy Huerta, Benjamin Velez & Lisa Loomer - American Repertory Theater (Cambridge, MA.) - REVIEW

(Photo: Lucy Godínez stars as "Ana" (center) surrounded by the CAST of the new musical, "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" by Joy Huerta, Benjamin Velez and Lisa Loomer now playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. through January 21, 2024. Photo Credit: Nile Scott Studios)

 



By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“Try to hold together when the stitches start to fray, if you pull too tightly, the pattern fades away.” 

                                                                                      - Joy Huerta, Benjamin Velez and Lisa Loomer  

American Repertory Theater

Presents the Musical 

"REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES"  


World-Premiere Musical!   

Music & Lyrics by Joy Huerta Benjamin Velez Book by Lisa Loomer

Additional Material by Nell Benjamin

Orchestrations by Bill Sherman and Cian McCarthy

Arrangements by Benjamin Velez, Joy Huerta & Naida DiGiallonardo

Based on the play by Josefina López and HBO’s Real Women Have Curves, Screenplay by Josefina López & George LaVoo 

Directed and Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo

Music Supervisor Nadia DiGiallonardo

Music Director Roberto Sinha

Cast Includes: Shelby Acosta as “Prima Flaca”; Satya Chávez as “Izel”; Florencia Cuenca as “Estela”; Lucy Godínez as “Ana”; Yvette González-Nacer as “Mrs. Wright”; Carla Jimenez as “Pancha”; Justina Machado as “Carmen”; Edward Padilla as “Raúl”; Mason Reeves as “Henry”; Jennifer Sánchez as “Rosalí”; Sandra Valls as “Prima Fulvia”; Ensemble: Shadia Fairuz, Elisa Galindez, Michael Keyloun, Christopher M. Ramirez, Arusi Santi; Swings: Amy Lizardo, Kayla Quiroz and Gus Stuckey; Sage as “Standby for Henry”

Additional Creative Team:

Scenic Design - Arnulfo Maldonado; Costume Design - Wilberth Gonzalez and Paloma Young; Lighting Design - Natasha Katz; Sound Design - Walter Trarbach; Video Design - Hana S. Kim; Hair, Wig, & Make-Up Design - Krystal Balleza; Casting Director - X Casting / Victor Vazquez, CSA; Casting Director - ARC / Duncan Stewart, CSA; Associate Choreographer - Liz Ramos; Associate Director - Emilia Lirman; Production Stage Manager - Molly Meg Legal

The actors and stage managers employed in this production are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States. 

The Director and Choreographer of this production are members of the STAGE DIRECTORS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS SOCIETY, a national theatrical labor union. 

United Scenic Artists represents the designers and scenic painters for the American Theatre. 

The musicians employed in this production are members of the American Federation of Musicians. 

Performances: 

December 8, 2023 through January 21, 2024

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times) 

The American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University (A.R.T.)

Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Four-play subscriptions are now on sale to A.R.T. supporters and will be available to renewing subscribers and the general public in June. 

Visit AmericanRepertoryTheater.org/Subscribe for more information.  

Throughout 2023/24, A.R.T. will:

  • Partner with the Harvard Office for Gender Equity to be in dialogue around the themes of A.R.T.’S  programming and evolve A.R.T.’s organizational culture;
  • Continue to develop Essential Questions that will drive artistic exploration and audience engagement opportunities around each production;
  • Continue to collaborate with Artists for Humanity, a Boston-based non-profit that provides teens the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design, engaging AFH teens to create art inspired by the Essential Questions
  • Offer the public opportunities to engage with new works in development, including an October reading of "The Odyssey" by Kate Hamill (Sense & Sensibility). Additional details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Additional programming and initiatives will be announced at a later date. 

Season support is provided by Harvard University, The Barr Foundation, The Bob and Alison Murchison New Work Development Fund, The Shubert Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Barton & Guestier, and Meyer Sound.

COVID 19 PROTOCOLS

Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

American Repertory Theater (ART) ends 2023 and begins 2024 with a rousing, simply sumptuous new musical, "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" and this show is woven together like a musical tapestry filled with the fabric of compassion, joy and pride.

The musical is similar to the original 1990 play, written by Josefina López, set in a tiny sewing factory in East Los Angeles in the late 80s and exploring the Latina immigrant experience.

The story has a rich history having become a hit 2002 movie and now, in 2023, we get to enjoy this fine musical adaptation, led by a strong ART cast and excellent ensemble.

The musical adaptation succeeds thanks to the combined efforts of its score provided by Joy Huerta and  Benjamin Velez, its book by Lisa Loomer (with additional material by Nell Benjamin), orchestrations by Bill Sherman and Cian McCarthy, the musical arrangements by Velez, Huerta and Naida DiGiallonardo, all spearheaded by the show's director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo.

Yet, however good the material might be, and it is very, VERY good, it would be nothing without the collective effort given by its performers who are just outstanding from beginning to end as they convey the Latin community experience exceptionally well.

This is less a story of immigration and more a story of life. 

(Photo: Sandra Valls as "Prima Fulvia," Carla Jimenez as "Pancha," Shelby Acosta as "Prima Flaca," Jennifer Sánchez as "Rosalí" and Florencia Cuenca as "Estela" in a moment from the new musical, "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" by Joy Huerta, Benjamin Velez and Lisa Loomer now playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. through January 21, 2024. Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Maggie Hall)

The musical not only contains an element of "body positivity" - the story speaks more to that Latin community experience as seen through the eyes of those who live in it, who live and breathe it in every day, without trying to bury its message in politically motivated diatribes. 

A story of hopes and dreams co-existing with day-to-day survival, all seen through the lives and hearts of these incredibly strong women working in the sewing factory.  

Ambitious Ana (Lucy Godínez) is a budding journalist who has been accepted to Columbia University in New York, but her mother, Carmen (Justina Machado), insists Ana help out her sister, Estela (Florencia Cuenca), who runs the factory. 

Ana's father, Raúl (Edward Padilla), is a painter who Ana feels tends to concede to whatever makes Carmen happy. However, later on, her father's seemingly passive behavior belies a tremendous strength of character.

The headstrong personalities evident in this "family" are thoroughly convincing thanks to the collective performances by Godínez, Machado, Cuenca and Padilla

Godinez is an unstoppable force as "Ana," matching the powerful presence of Machado as "Carmen" - and their relationship as defiant daughter vs. controlling mother is equaled by their "family-size doses" of caring, respect...and, above all, love.  

(Photo: Justina Machado as "Carmen" in a scene from the new musical, "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" by Joy Huerta, Benjamin Velez and Lisa Loomer now playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. through January 21, 2024. Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Maggie Hall)

Carmen's plans for her youngest include marriage and babies, while Ana seeks more from her life. 

However, she has not told her family about being accepted to Columbia, relenting to her mother's wishes and begins working at the factory. 

Ana's emotions are beautifully conveyed in the song, "Flying Away" a song so stirring, so memorable, it should easily become a Broadway standard someday. 

While the two musicals could not be more different from each other, the vibrant score of "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" recalls some of the melodies from "Waitress" and, trust me, once one becomes available, this is going to be a cast recording you will want to play over and over again.

As Ana maintains a busy internship schedule covering various news story assignments, the aspiring journalist simultaneously works long hours at Estela's dress factory, sewing and ironing dresses.

As Ana soon learns, though, as any kind of seamstress she makes a fine reporter.

Through this deep immersion, though, the reporter in Ana begins to notice how these dedicated women talk about their respective lives and are unapologetic about their own sacrificed aspirations.

Among Estela's workers are Prima Fulvia (Sandra Valls), Pancha (Carla Jimenez), Prima Flaca (Shelby Acosta) and Rosalí (Jennifer Sánchez). 

Estela has been offered an incredible opportunity to make a lot of money by the wealthy Mrs. Wright (Yvette González-Nacer) who needs 200 dresses within three weeks time. 

Estela agrees but this decision immediately puts her workers on a serious time crunch in a race to succeed.

(Photo: Ensemble members Arusi Santi and Elisa Galindez (left) watch as fellow ensemble member Christopher M. Ramirez dances with Yvette González-Nacer (who plays "Mrs. Wright") in a moment from the new musical, "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. through January 21, 2024. Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Maggie Hall)

The woman also face many other challenges such as the daily raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka "La Migra").

One worker who befriends Ana is the young Izel (Satya Chávez) an illegal who seems to fear "La Migra" moreso than the other workers. 

During an intense moment, Ana and Izel run to the roof of the factory where they look out upon the Los Angeles skyline and Izel conveys to Ana of her own life's journey in the song, "If I Were A Bird." 

The blending of voices during this song is so angelic, one wishes there were more harmonious moments like this...thankfully, there are.

Ana's only ally sharing in her secret is awkward, fellow journalist intern, Henry (Mason Reeves) who becomes smitten with Ana and who will also be attending college in the fall. 

Reeves provides many of the show's biggest laughs with impeccable timing.

Out on a date, the duo explores the idea of traveling together during the fun musical number, "Drivin’ Next To You."

Not at first but, soon, Ana learns about her own resilience and, more importantly, she learns of the resilience shared by her sister, her mother, and each of her co-workers made evident in many great musical numbers, leading up to and including the show's empowering Act Two signature number, "Curves." 

(Photo: Lucy Godínez stars as "Ana" (center) surrounded by the CAST of the new musical, "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" by Joy Huerta, Benjamin Velez and Lisa Loomer now playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA. through January 21, 2024. Photo Credit: Nile Scott Studios)

Several sub-plots converge during the second act which elevate the story and brings it to a highly satisfying conclusion. 

If there is one aspect of the production which seems lacking at all, it would be in the area of choreography by the show's director, Sergio Trujillo

There are a lot of wonderfully staged moments by Trujillo but the music is so lively at times that any applied choreography might leave some wanting more. However, this does not diminish from the overall visceral enjoyment in the slightest.

One other minor musical observation: Act Two begins with a heartfelt violin solo by Yvette González-Nacer (who is also equally dazzles as manipulative magnate "Mrs. Wright") which seems all too brief. 

Scenic designs are colorful, exuberant and reflect the strength of all the characters seen in the story.

In the end, we come to wrap ourselves in the warm blanket that is this tender story about families...and family.

"REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" continues at the ART in Cambridge until January 21st and it is highly recommended that no one misses out on seeing this wonderfully woven production.

Up next, American Repertory Theater presents "BECOMING A MAN" by P. Carl coming in February, 2024.

Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 

@MetrmagReviews

@Theatre_Critics 

ABOUT THE SHOW

“Big-hearted and empowering.” — Variety  

It’s the summer of 1987 in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights, and Ana wants to blaze her own path. 

The first-generation child of Mexican immigrants, Ana is torn between a future at her family’s garment business and her dreams of college in New York. If she breaks from her parents’ vision for her life, can she still honor the sacrifices that have allowed her to dream? 

Based on the play by Josefina López that inspired the hit film by Josefina López and George LaVoo, this new musical adaptation of “REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES” tells an uplifting story for anyone who has experienced the unexpected curves of life. 

Directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Sergio Trujillo ("Arrabal," "Ain’t Too Proud," "Jersey Boys"), REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES features a book by award-winning playwright Lisa Loomer ("Roe"; "The Waiting Room"; "Girl, Interrupted") with an original score by Grammy-winning recording artist Joy Huerta (from world-renowned Mexican pop duo Jesse and Joy) and Fred Ebb Award winner Benjamin Velez ("Kiss My Aztec").   

ABOUT THE AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER

MISSION

The American Repertory Theater at Harvard University is dedicated to expanding the boundaries of theater, always including the audience as a partner. 

VISION

We focus on the research and development of groundbreaking theatrical experiences that catalyze dialogue and transformation. We believe that by engaging our hearts, minds, and bodies, theater has the power to heal and imagine collective pathways forward. We commit to advancing public health in our practice and our programming, recognizing that racism in America is a national public health crisis. Our new home in Allston will be a breathable and healthy building envisioned as a town hall for the twenty-first century. Inspired by the model of a teaching hospital, the building will be a vibrant center for research, experiential pedagogy, and performance. We build community with our audiences, artists, students, staff, and neighbors across Greater Boston, embracing theater’s power to cultivate the full breadth and beauty of our shared humanity. We affirm and celebrate a multitude of perspectives and experiences that reflect the diversity of our country and world. We are dedicated to making a welcoming and accessible space for people of any identity, background, or ability. 

VALUES

We hold the institution and each other responsible and accountable for living our shared values. There is no hierarchy to these values; they are all equally important and interrelated. We acknowledge that as an institution we must devote time to implementing and sustaining these values:

We center anti-racism

Habituate anti-racist practices in our policies, structure, and culture

We lead with inquiry

Ask questions in a spirit of brave curiosity in our never-ending journey of learning and growth

We believe in collaboration

Work together with trust and respect to unlock collective creativity

We practice adaptability

Challenge assumptions and create capacity to support “next” practices

We embrace regenerative practice

Promote the health and vitality of our planet, our organization, and each other 

American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)

Loeb Drama Center

64 Brattle Street

Cambridge, MA 02138

Phone # 617-547-8300

WEBSITE: www.americanrepertorytheater.org