As all good baseball fans know, Roberto Clemente is one of the sport's greatest success stories. The right-fielder who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 through 1972, Clemente was awarded the National League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1966, was a National League All-Star for 12 seasons, received 12 Golden Glove Awards and, in 1973, was the first Latin American elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Playwright Luis Caballero has written a musical about Clemente titled "DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story," which traces Clemente's rise from poverty in the barrios of Puerto Rico to his astonishing international success. With direction by Caballero, music by Caballero and Harold Gutierrez, performed with sizzle by the Sin Miedo salsa band, the production at GALA Hispanic Theatre is an exciting blend of song and dance and an intriguing analysis of the myth and reality of Clemente's life.
The musical begins at the funeral for Clemente (Modesto Lacen), with speeches by the play's three narrators: one of Roberto's brothers, Matino (Josean Ortiz); Clemente's wife, Vera (Keren Lugo); and Roberto's friend Ramiro (Ricardo Puente). Right from the start, Caballero establishes a sense of how Clemente was cherished by his friends and family.
Then the musical spirals back to the days when Clemente was growing up penniless among Puerto Rico's sugar cane fields. Using grainy, black-and-white projections by Jorge Rodriguez, Caballero establishes what Clemente's tiny hometown of Carolina must have looked like.
|If you go|
|'DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story'|
|» Where: GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW|
|» When: Through May 26|
|» Info: $20 to $42; 202-234-7174; galatheatre.org; in Spanish and English with surtitles|
As a young boy, Clemente and his friends played baseball with guava sticks and tin cans since they were too poor to have bats and balls. But even without "real" equipment, Clemente distinguished himself, and when a chance came to play ball in the United States, he jumped at it.
But in the States, Clemente stumbled on the language barrier, as he didn't speak English. More critically, the racial barrier was a source of pain to him.
The major roles and the ensemble in "DC-7" are all extremely talented. Luis Salgado's fluid choreography creates exciting patterns to accompany the varied blend of African, Taino tribal and salsa music. Jose Lopez Aleman has created a spare set with a moving set piece, used occasionally for a dugout.
"DC-7" is a process of watching a person becoming aware of discrimination and then doing something about it. Even though he eventually became an international star with plenty of money, Clemente never forgot his roots. His generosity, in fact, led to his untimely death. After an earthquake in Nicaragua, he insisted on flying there with relief supplies, but the plane crashed into the ocean. "DC-7" does a good job of recreating Clemente's passion for righting the world's wrongs.