Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 13, 2022

Review: Hartford Stage, "Kiss My Aztec"

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 26, 2022
by Shera Cohen

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
"Kiss My Aztec," a relatively new comedic drama by popular comedian/writer John Leguizamo at the helm who leaves its audience laughing, thoughtful, and far more educated about the role of White nations invading those with populations of "brown skin"; a line used often in Act II. Those seated in the theatre, come as they are, wart and all, with prejudices and feelings about racial unrest in this century.

The musical is jam-packed with 20 songs, most of which are laugh-out-loud funny. Audiences take nearly all as sarcastic and occasionally uncomfortable in this off-beat historic look at the Aztec nation conquered by Spain. If there is a chronological line to the story, it is a bit confusing. Perhaps that error lies with me, as a viewer who knows relatively little about the Aztecs vs. Spain centuries ago. The incongruity of rap, calypso, solo drum music accompanying ballads, love serenades, and laments, makes the musical all the more fun. Expect the unexpected.

All actors took on the task of double or triple roles. The story line depicts the Spaniard king and his two children, neither of whom he cares about, but needs to marry off to continue the monarchy. Matt Saldivar (king) is sharp and always on the mark, especially when spouting his 21st century quips. No one could fault with anyone in the ensemble of 16. Our lead, Joel Perez as a naive young man uses his friendly sock puppets in battle in his hysterical means to thwart the enemy; Perez and puppets steal the show. 

This production is awash with colors: the background sets' graffiti, the giant face of Dawn of the Dead, and costumes of actors made to look almost like harlequins or beach combers. 

Music Director Roberto Sinha, leads his band of nine in what is nearly non-stop music, similar to "Hamilton," switching music styles within seconds.

Choreographer Mayte Natalio and Director Tony Taccone execute full-cast numbers particularly at the start of the musical with actors literally jumping all about the stage. What seems like a free-for-all, is not. A lengthy fight scene in Act II with all actors onstage, as well as in the play's ending, prove the excellence of this creative team.

If you notice that this review mentions many Spanish surnames in key roles, that is not a coincidence. To make the production as authentic as possible, these individuals, both onstage and backstage were the best selected for their roles. 

One recommendation if the play is taken on the road and/or to Broadway is to cut: a few songs completely and/or shorten some songs. Even though direction and characters move quickly, at over two and a half hours, "Kiss My Aztec" runs a bit longer than needed.