CELIA CRUZ CELIA CRUZ CELIA CRUZ
with JOSE ALBERTO "EL CANARIO" at Massey Hall, February 17. Tickets: $39.50-$59.50. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNN the undisputed queen of salsa for the last half of the 20th century, Celia Cruz isn't much closer to a mainstream breakthough on this continent than she was when she first moved to the U.S. 40 years ago.
Sure, Cruz has been in big-budget films, won Grammy Awards and even has a star on a Hollywood sidewalk, but the latin craze has done little for her stateside chart action.
Some might explain away the Havana-born singing star's crossover difficulty by bringing up the longstanding U.S. grudge against Cuba, but her Massey Hall appearance Saturday demonstrated a far less sinister reason. Cruz needs to get past the language barrier.
It would be ridiculous to expect Cruz to sing in any language but her native Spanish, and considering that she's now in her 70s, she shouted along to the uptempo jams from her new Siempre Viviré (Sony) album -- accompanied by her 11-piece band -- with surprising power, albeit in a talk-singing rather than her usual crooning style.
But even when she paused to recall her departed pal Tito Puente, share a gag with the band or thank the audience for the warm reception, there were no concessions made to the English-speaking patrons, who were left to stare at each other blankly.
Although most of the crowd were there for Cruz, opener Jose Alberto "El Canario" very nearly stole the show with his impassioned belting, suggestive hip-swivelling and strangely effective air-flute soloing. That he was generously given 90 minutes to warm up the crowd certainly helped the seasoned showman make a lasting impression.