Just after the U.S. initiated a thaw in political relations with Cuba, Artists Repertory Theatre’s new musical “Cuba Libre,” set in America and Cuba, held its world premiere in Portland Oct. 10. The production features three-time Grammy-nominated Latin band Tiempo Libre and tells the story of the losses and loves of a man caught between countries as he searches for freedom.

“Cuba Libre” is a contemporary musical inspired by the collective histories of the seven members of Tiempo Libre, who were all born in Cuba. The two-hour production is a bilingual theatre experience with the majority of the dialogue in English and the music largely in Spanish. Told in flashbacks from present-day Miami to 1990s Cuba, the plot centers around a Cuban musician making a new life for himself in America, while still haunted by the sacrifices made by his friends, family and himself in order to pursue his artistic dreams.

Tiempo Libre perform live as part of each show and their exhilarating Afro-Caribbean rhythms are the driving force of the production. Described as the most ambitious project undertaken to date by Artists Repertory Theatre, “Cuba Libre” includes 11 musical numbers, complex set and projection designs, and a company of 21 actors, dancers and musicians. The spectacular choreography even incorporates the audience in the action.

In addition to the music and lyrics written by Tiempo Libre’s music director, Jorge Gómez, the Latin flavor of the show is enhanced by the collaboration of Cuban-born playwright Carlos Lacámara, director Dámaso Rodriguez and choreographer Maija Garcia. The principal cast features German Alexander, Janet Dacal, Brandon Contreras, Nick Duckart, Sara Hennessy, Jose Luaces and Luisa Sermol along with a talented dance ensemble.

To take a trip to the Carribbean without leaving downtown Portland, get to Portland’s Centers for the Performing Arts’ Winningstad Theatre by Nov. 15 for “Cuba Libre.” Shows are at 7:30 p.m. with additional 2 p.m. Sunday matinees. The theater is dark Mondays and most Tuesdays. Tickets cost $46-$65 and $35 for students and under 25.

Contact: www.artistsrep.org or 503-241-1278.

— Reporter: 541-383-0350, khimstreet@bendbulletin.com

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