VIDA! story and direction by Lizt Alfonso and Kelly Robinson (Mirvish/Danza Cuba). At the Royal Alex (260 King West). To June 17. $25-$85. 416-872-1212, www.mirvish. com. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
For a taste of cuba, you can always down a mojito, but you'll find something even more intoxicating at the Royal Alex: Danza Cuba 's Vida!
The famed dance troupe's choreographer and artistic director, Lizt Alfonso , fuses ballet, jazz, Afro-Cuban, Spanish and sultry Latin dances, and gives the show a brisk heartbeat with percussive footwork. Together with co-director Kelly Robinson , she's created an exhilarating dance musical.
The story follows the title character (played by Omara Portuondo from the Buena Vista Social Club) as she recalls her life in Cuba for her granddaughter Alma ( Yaraidy Fernández ) in monologues (translated and dubbed into English) and songs.
To help tell the story, which spans the decades from 1930 to the present, the company of 25 female dancers frequently transform themselves. Watching them evolve in perfect unison from carefree party girls into soldiers (who can flamenco en pointe!) is at once intriguing and dazzling.
Portuondo, a powerhouse at 76, doesn't dance.
She leaves that to the three performers playing younger versions of Vida. Yet her expressive body and face, along with her resonant singing voice, carry the story vividly.
Other outstanding performers include Fernández, a girl who dances with tenderness and confidence, and Yudisley Martínez who, as Vida 2, gorgeously seduces both the Young Man ( Vadim Larramendi ) and the audience. Maysabel Pintado 's Death is, well, to die for.
Yannik Larivee 's romantic, balconied two-tiered set and vibrant costumes tastefully flaunt the dancers, while Howard Ungerleider 's lighting tells a tale of its own. The show also benefits greatly from the versatile, multi-instrumental ensemble.
What's missing is a lovers' courtship as passionate as their breakup, a more engaging voice-over dub and an enthralling grand finale.
Still, Vida! will leave you exhilaratingly drunk on its fiery rhythms.