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Nickel tour of Latin tunes heats up a chilly Midwest

Special to The Times

“Ladies and gentlemen, Latinos y gringos,” is our welcome from Nebraska. It is midwinter, but the VFW is warming up from within. Four homesick Latinos, after meeting in a burrito joint and discovering that they have “only their songs to keep them warm,” are doing what anyone would in their position: They are putting on a show.

Their extravaganza is a celebration of the music their parents sang to them as children. They hail from diverse quarters -- Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico -- but a pulsing beat unites them. So does their mutual moniker, Jose.

These hombres have promoted their good-neighbor policy around an irresistible temptress, Maria. Yet, when her cue arrives, no Maria shows up to counter the florid masculinity that shakes its bon-bon about the postcard-colored, palm tree-studded stage.

Luckily, Maria’s roommate (also named Maria) storms the aisle, on the rebound, again. She lets fly with a snippet of “Piensa en Mi” (Think of Me”) and the amigos are convinced. Also smitten. The ensuing Omaha Sound Machine finds each Jose pursuing Maria. She negotiates their amor with an increasingly demented smile, never losing focus on her worthless ex.

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These antics propel “4 Guys Named Jose ... and Una Mujer Named Maria!” at International City Theatre in Long Beach. This West Coast premiere of David Coffman and Dolores Prida’s 2000 off-Broadway crowd-pleaser gives the “5 Guys Named Moe"/"Forever Plaid” template a sweetly bilingual thrust and a toe-tapping tempo. In doing so, “4 Guys” dances past its cruise-ship aspects with surefire gusto.

As Maria, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer is a wonderful find. Her caballeros make a solid unit, sashaying in harmony like the Four Freshman at a fiesta. Dan Pacheco’s elfin Jose Mexicano and Alberto Stevans’ posturing Jose Boricua have the most vivid solo opportunities, but Benjamin Perez’s hambone Jose Dominicano and Gustavo Rex’s procedure-minded Jose Cubano hold their own.

Together, they offer a thumbnail tour of Latin American stars through the decades, from Carmen Miranda to Ricky Martin. Other highlights include a hand-held percussion demo, a crash course on linguistic essentials, and a tickling Act 2 challenge quartet of odes to the recalcitrant Maria. By the end, almost every crossover classic has been touched on, from “Perfidia” to “I Like It Like That.”

Director Jules Aaron lets the material play without decorating it. Tom Buderwitz’s fine set is awash with tropical hue, as is the rich lighting by Tom and Donna Ruzika. Nadine Parkos and Gelareh Khalioun have a costumer’s carnivale, color-coding the men for easy identification, and putting Maria in full bombshell mode.

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Musical director Darryl Archibald’s combo keeps the rhythms hot, though the lack of a trumpet is glaring. Ramon del Barrio’s choreography spans the history of Latin dance, even the Macarena. This festive entertainment hardly breaks new ground, but it certainly spices up the time-tested revue terrain.

*

‘4 Guys Named Jose ... and Una Mujer Named Maria!’

Where: International City Theatre at Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

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When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 28

Price: $34 to $42

Contact: (562) 436-4610

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Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes


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