Critic’s Choice: From cabaret to big top, more ‘El Grande’ laughs

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Meet voluble Pepe, patriarch of the world’s most dubious clan of Mexican entertainers, who has retained his unwarranted confidence over the decades since his brood began touring the bottom-rung nightclub circuit.

Now the franchise has moved into big top territory. Most of the animals they began with didn’t make it across the border, but that won’t hinder this feckless familia any more than its dumpster dressing room behind el Teatro Skylight.

Welcome to “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola.” Ron House’s follow-up to his, John Neville-Andrews, Alan Shearman and Diz White’s 1973 international phenomenon is a knee-slapping festival of broad hilarity.

Under Shearman’s knowing misdirection and Tor Campbell’s ham-footed choreography, it breathlessly assaults us from designer John Iacovelli’s astute set, complete with giant bottle of the titular sponsor and Pepe’s face on the drum set.


Once again, the text is a bilingual -- or sublingual -- mash-up of Spanish and English that makes Mrs. Malaprop of “The Rivals” seem like a Rhodes scholar. What’s new are the shameless topical references and, um, specialty acts that unfold with death-defying aplomb.

There’s inept knife-throwing, aerialists, flamenco fleas, impressions and more (or less), such as “Bolshoi Ballet Radioactivo” and the compendium of telenovela clichés.

Jennifer Edward’s loopy lighting, Sarah Figoten Wilson’s garish costumes, Jeff Gardner’s cracked sound and Jeff Faeth’s wacky props winkingly contribute to the demented to-do.

And the cast is fearless in its physical dexterity and unified farcical chops. As daughters Consuelo and Maria, respectively, Lila Dupree lands somewhere between Lisa Kudrow and Carol Burnett, while Olivia Christina Delgado deftly combines mugging and subtlety.

Paul Baird’s adopted son runs the lowbrow gamut, his keyboard and accordion skills choicely cheesy, and Aaron Miller’s foundling goes for slapstick broke, his late-inning Napoleon send-up defying description.

All spins around Marcelo Tubert’s ever-grinning Pepe -- think Ernie Kovacs as Telemundo pitch man. Apt, since this un-PC fiesta is simultaneously a throwback to the golden age of live television, a current-day-minded sequel and its own hysterical entertainment.

“El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola,” Skylight Theatre, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave., L.A. 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 23. $34. (213) 761-7061 or Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.