What keeps A Mexican Affair -- cabaret show headlined by Rafa Reyes and backed by a fine Latin group -- going? It is the immense personable charm and contagious self-delight of Rafa himself, coupled with the powerful support he receives from the quintet behind him. This young singer from Mexico, who came to the United States to attend New York’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy, certainly has “that something” and it bespeaks of the kind of presence that compels an audience to stay with him and see what will unfold. That’s no mean feat in the world of solo cabaret performing (or in solo performing of any kind). The seasoned New York cabaret audience knows immediately if the performer in front of them is up to something, something that deserves more than casual attention and polite applause. A Mexican Affair delivers.
The show’s premise centers on a Rafa’s coming to New York in search of “the big time”, a discourse which has fueled many a Broadway show. Rafa’s personal journey would be just another variation of the many we’ve heard, if not for his contagious pleasure in sharing it. Thus peppered between the songs are tales of his journey, unfolding with a special exuberance. In addition are his musings about what American think of Mexico and its citizens: the current media talk about conflict and image. That part might have been lost on the New York cabaret audience, who I’d say largely lack Middle America’s preconceived notions (a/k/a prejudices). What I’m getting at is that the extended patter was largely unnecessary, and made me a bit impatient to get on to the next song, which for me is cabaret’s meat of the matter.
The tone and presentation of Rafa’s singing reminds me of the early Desi Arnaz, prior to his well-known performances which we all remember from endless reruns of I Love Lucy. I’m referring to Arnaz’ fine rendition of “Perfidia" in the 1939 Gloria Swanson/Adolph Menjou film, Father Takes a Wife; his conga number in 1940’s Too Many Girls; or accompanying himself on guitar in the 1942’s The Navy Comes Through. Arnaz was then a very handsome and energetic young man, and though he never possessed what could be called a great instrument, there’s more to singing than a fine instrument. (Fred Astaire, who with a rather thin voice, danced both adagio and tap on his vocal chords.) Rafa likewise has something singers with more standard sonorous voices lack: abundant energy and the ability to deliver self-delight. Many a dull singer has a great instrument, and Rafa is anything but dull as he and his quartet take the audience through Latin and Broadway standards in both Spanish and English, including the sweetly executed “You Belong to My Heart,” “I Talk to the Tree,” “Besame Mucho,” “Perfidia,” and others; closing with a song introduced by singing cowboy Gene Autry in 1939, “South of the Border”. Rafa and the quintet truly go “south of the border” with this old, pleasant standard but with a rousing rhythmic Latin rendition.
The quintet backing up Rafa is energetically superb and is led by musical director and vibraphonist Felipe Fournier whose solo on “Perfidia" brought the house down. Also in the group was Dan Martinez on bass, Julie Acosta on trumpet, percussionist Guillermo Barron, and Joel Mateo on drums.
Producing a show such as this is a prodigious undertaking. Bravo to Rafa Reyes and all involved for mounting an uplifting engaging evening! - Jay Reisberg
Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, and bon vivant at large.