New Yorkers might find it odd to think that there is a huge celebration of Los Angeles going on right in the heart of Times Square, and yet that is precisely what is happening in Figaro! (90210) playing at The Duke on 42nd Street. The show, first presented by the LA Opera, is a revised version of Mozart’s iconic The Marriage of Figaro, filtered through the experience of undocumented workers living in modern day Los Angeles. The day of Figaro’s (a subtly brilliant José Adán Pérez) wedding to Susana (Samarie Alicea, sensual and moving in equal measures) has finally arrived, they are both undocumented immigrants working for Mr. Conti (a terrific Luke Scott), who has allowed them to use his garden for the ceremony, and has even suggested they move into a pool house he never uses. But Susana knows better; she’s been the object of Mr. Conti’s more than heavy flirtations and the boss has offered to help her obtain her visa if she sleeps with him. Afraid that Figaro will find out, and do something crazy out of jealousy, she concocts a plan with Conti’s neglected wife Roxanne (Raquel Suarez-Groen in a scene-stealing joy of a performance) that will help them both achieve what they want.
But this isn’t the only thing that will go wrong for the bride and groom on their wedding day, soon they are being threatened by sweatshop owner Ms. Soon-Yi Nam (the hilarious Sahoko Sato Timpo) and her thug ally Babayan (Ethan Herschenfeld), who helped Susana cross the border years before and have come to collect their dues. More complications arise with the failed romance between aspiring rapper Li’l B-Man (Dwayne A. Washington) and the Contis daughter Barbara (Emma Grimsley). The show basically borrows the structure and characters from The Marriage of Figaro, and shows that the emotional issues that plagued us in the late 17th century aren’t only the sames that plague us now, but that the perils and joys of romance know no racial or migratory status differences.
The updated libretto by Vid Guerreiro is a treasure chest of comedic gems, that not only pays tribute to opera buffa but highlights a very direct bridge from it to modern musical comedies. His ability to adapt the score and include lyrics about “hos”, “sexts” and many Spanglish terms is an achievement that makes the show accessible for people who have never experienced any opera before. The musical direction by Raphael Fusco is exceptional, not only because he makes the small orchestra fill a huge room with beautiful sounds, but because watching him from time to time mouth the words to the songs, is a tiny spectacle on itself.
Most special of all in Figaro! (90210), is how the show delivers a message of unity that’s political, and also essentially all about common sense. Seeing the diverse cast onstage, singing modern words to a score written in 1786 is a very timely reminder of why the world needs to be a melting pot of cultures. More than a love song to Los Angeles, which it completely is, the show is a poem to the beauty of accepting the differences in others, and loving them, not in spite but because of them. If opera purists worry about Mozart’s reaction in his grave, it’s safe to assume that dear old Wolfgang would come back to life to applaud the production, be flattered by how the company has paid tribute to his legacy, and also roar from laughter along with the rest of the audience.