Cesar Sings

A musical celebrating Cesar Chavez brings activism to life

By Hyun Joo Chung
Published on LatinoLA: March 21, 2003

Cesar Sings

"Buenos d?as!"

Naylor, a hefty man with a bullet-like chain of silver nails, greets in Spanglish.

"Mucho trabajo, mucho dinero," he promises. "Much work, much money. "

"However, slow trabajo=no dinero, muchos visitos al ba?o=no dinero"

After Cesar?s family works in the field, Naylor giggles over his unfairly gained profits.

"I don't think it's very funny," Cesar Chavez, played by actor Roberto Alcaraz, says in the theatrical play "Cesar and Ruben."

"I don't think it's very funny how everyone knows Mr. Naylor has a small tool."

Immediately, the hoarse-voiced monster goes to Chavez. "You trouble?" he growls.

"I was talking about this one."

Cesar innocently lifts out a farm tool from his pocket, used to pick fruit. "What were you talking about, Mr. Naylor?"

Humor and song is used to tell the story of Cesar Estrada Chavez, a person who struggled from when his family lost their homes to working in the fields as a child. Writer and director of the musical, Ed Begley, Jr. chose the musical to tell the story because of Cesar Chavez?s ?profound love of music.?

He asked: ?Can we keep the memory of?that man alive for generations to come? S?, se puede! Yes, we can!?

"I wanted to hit him," young Cesar confesses to his mother Juana, played by actress Jeanine Pacheo, of the white officer who chased him. "Am I a coward?" Cesar asks for not hitting him.

"No, Cesar, you are stronger than a hundred men," Juana Chavez says. She is Cesar?s mentor of nonviolence and one of several important women who figure in his life. "Don't give up," she says to Cesar.

At the union meeting, what was going to be boycotted Potatoes or grapes? Chavez says potatoes. Dolores Huerta says grapes. Dolores argues her way. Huerta?s leadership to lead the international grape boycott paved the way for the first contract of the United Farm Workers Union.

Helen Chavez, Cesar?s wife, played by actress Marta Dubois, is the unofficial financial accountant for the union work. She is the one who wanted to give a chance to Fred Ross, the white man who recruited Chavez for union work, even though Cesar wanted to keep the door shut.

?He believed in the dignity of every working woman.? Helen Hernandez said the president and founder of the Imagen Foundation, one of the honored guests at the Gala Opening on Friday, March 14th.

The other name on the marquee "Ruben" is journalist Ruben Salazar, the famed Mexican-American journalist who in his career had interviewed Cesar Chavez. In the musical, Ruben serves as the slick and sarcastic foil for Cesar who questions Chavez of all his efforts and what he fought for. Salazar, considered a community hero himself, was killed in the aftermath of the Chicano Moratorium, shot by a tear gas projectile missile at age forty-two.

Musical pieces were provided by Sting, Ruben Blades, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, Enrique Iglesias, David Crosby, and Carmen Moreno. The lyrics were altered but the melodies were familiar.

The musical is innovative for documentation through the background screen. Pictures of the tragedy were displayed on the screen as the actors played out the event of the Chicano Moratorium. Newspaper clippings and photographs of migrant workers with their families in the fields make Cesar and Ruben a historical resource.

The musical left the audience with curiosity to learn more about Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the migrant farmers? history of California.

Members of Chavez's family attended the premiere. Julie Rodriguez, granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, hoped future advocates would be educated through this musical, which succeeded ?by making history contemporary.?

?He challenged people to go and do the marching and fasting." Paul Chavez said of his father.

"We hope everyone to come see this musical," said the bold Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of United Farm Workers Union. The Gala event was also attended by Arturo Rodriguez, the president of the United Farm Workers Union and representatives of Cesar Chavez Foundation. The activist for the ?movimiento de los campesinos? raised her fist, proud above her head for the movement of the farm workers.

"?Viva Cesar Chavez!"

Cesar and Ruben: A Musical Celebration of the Life and Work of Cesar Chavez" will be played Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM. Sunday nights at 7PM. Matinees Sat 3 PM and Sun 2PM. It ends April 27th.

Cesar and Ruben is performed at El Portal Theatre 5269 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood.

Tickets are $20, $30, $35 and can purchased by calling TicketMaster (213) 480-3232 or Ticketmaster.com; Group Sales (818) 508 -4200; For information of the musical: (818)508-4200

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