John Leguizamo, fresh off the success of, “Latin History Is For Morons”, collaborated with Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep’s Artistic Director for 22 years, to bring “Kiss My Aztec!” to the stage. Leguizamo’s first musical about Aztec history enthralled and entertained. Taccone, who is half-Puerto Rican, tapped into his Latinx roots for the last production during his tenure with Berkeley Repertory.
The opening number titled “White People on Boats” introduced the audience to the irreverence, subversive, and playful energy infused in the DNA of this musical. For fans of John Leguizamo’s solo work, the story uses code-switching in a way that’s accessible even for those who don’t have a dictionary with them to follow.
Taking place in the 1500s, we follow the Aztecs fighting their foe, the Spaniards, with the help of humor, good ole’ fashioned misdirection, and music numbers infused with sounds in the Latinx diaspora.
Our main characters, Pepe (played by Joél Pérez) and Colobmina (played by Yani Marin), lead the charge to help their tribe storm the Spaniards’ castle to ruin their plans for domination. Pérez’s balance of humor and emotion provided a levity and depth to a character that in the hands of another actor might have appeared as the stereotypical court jester. His Pepe is the perfect mix of geek and charm, which made him endearing. Yani, as Colombina, counterbalanced Pepe’s awkwardness with her boldness and badassery at every turn. She is the woman who didn’t want to participate in fulfilling gender stereotypes like wanting to get married and tend the house, as we learn in the song, “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do.”
While watching, I couldn’t stop trying to place a familiar face I saw in the ensemble cast. Playing Fernando, the closeted gay man having an affair with a priest, was Zachary Infante. I learned during intermission that they had appeared in my only favorite film starring Jack Black School of Rock in 2001 as the tech wiz. After a few roles in films, they had taken to the stage for the rest of their careers. It was refreshing seeing a child actor grown and moving through a different space and in this case, theater. Zach’s comedic performance shined. While the material for their roles relied on gay tropes that brought me out of the story, I appreciated them nonetheless.
Sitting in the front row, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing because the show succeeded in making the audience think, laugh, and even cry. Most of these performances felt catered to the demographic that predominantly attends live theatre (and they’re not Latinx). For the first time, I felt this musical was made for my Afro-Latinx ancestors, family, and the Latinx community. “Kiss My Aztec!” is a musical to be seen and discussed.