SMC and Ed Begley Jr. re-envision Cesar Chavez

Dressed in colourful Mexican costumes, a cast of singers and dancers cavort on stage powerfully singing in Spanish while breaking into English dialogue; part of this play’s envisioned path into the afterlife. “Cesar and Ruben” is a musical tribute written by environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. and dedicated to civil-rights figure Cesar Chavez.

Through an eclectic array of music, dance, imagery and an imagined conversation with former L.A. Times reporter Ruben Salazar, Begley and director Perviz Sawoski plan to translate a movement through a musical.

Chavez, a Mexican-American labor leader, worked to improve the rights and working conditions of the migrant farm workers in the southwestern United States during the 1960s and '70s, and then founding the United Farm Workers of America.

As an environmental activist, and close friend of Cesar Chavez, Begley was inspired to tell Chavez’s story after “bearing the great sadness of having carried his coffin through the streets.”

The production has only been performed three times since it was written in 2003, and this year, Begley reconstructed the original script, which made its debut at the Santa Monica College Main Stage last Friday.

Constructed in what Begley refers to as “reverse engineering,” this “jukebox-style” production features a variety of songs in Spanish by Sting, Carlos Santana, Ruben Blades, and is performed by a live band led by Gary Gray, the production’s musical director.

If you’re expecting sequined frocks, alongside a karaoke-style variety of pop songs, be warned, “we are approaching the music from a theatrical point of view, as opposed to a pop singer point of view,” says Gray.

Arthur Rodriguez, active SMC student and grandson of the late Chavez, was in attendance for the play’s SMC premiere. He felt that the opening of this production occurred with “impeccable timing.”

“The story relates remarkably to current society,” said Rodriguez. “The message translates across to anybody.”

The direction of the play was clear, the music brought the production together and the ensemble visibly put their best into the performance.

“Cesar and Ruben” debuted at the SMC Main Stage on Oct. 14, and has additional dates scheduled for Oct. 22 and 23.

Tickets are priced at $20 for general admission with discounts for students, SMC employees, and senior citizens. For tickets call (310) 434-4319.