LATIN LESSON Laugart sings loud over a Cuban rhythm.

LATIN LESSON Laugart sings loud over a Cuban rhythm. Photograph: Erica Rojas

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Whether or not you like salsa—lots of it, at top volume—will determine if Celia is for you. This combination concert and weepy remembrance of Cuban-born salsa queen Celia Cruz (1925–2003) isn’t much of a musical, but it is an effective delivery system for about 30 energetic, high-decibel numbers that feature a hardworking band. (The same cast alternates performances in Spanish and English.)

Framed by the retirement-home reminiscences of Cruz’s husband, Pedro Knight (Modesto Lacén, basing his entire character on a squint and palsied hand), the action shifts between Pedro regaling his male nurse with tales of Celia’s rise to fame in Cuba and America, and numbers performed by Xiomara Laugart. For the book scenes, Cruz is played by the appealing Selenis Leyva, identified in the program only as “Woman.”

While the songs tend to blend into one hyperactive, syncopated blur, they are the best part of the show, augmented by a lively dancing ensemble and Sarah Sidman’s pulsing lights. Besides the infectious “Bemba Colorá” and sexy duo “Cúcala,” we are treated to Cruz’s distinctive versions of “Oye Como Va” and “I Will Survive” (“Yo Viviré”). Unfortunately, though, we always return to old wistful Pedro, the guy who lived lovingly but begrudgingly in the shadow of his famous wife. Better for him, and us, to forget his troubles and turn up the music.

—David Cote

New World Stages. Book by Carmen Rivera and Candido Tirado. Music and lyrics by various. Dir. Jaime Azpilicueta. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 35mins. One intermission.