I’ve found two ways to stay cool in the hip sense if not the literal this past weekend. “La Havana Madrid,” an entertainment that celebrates Latin American music and culture, is a delightful way to spend a summer evening (through August 4 at Mission San Juan Capistrano). It’s a show that comes from the heart, that of writer-star Sandra Delgado, who calls it “a mixture of fact and fiction.”

This South Coast Repertory production, set in a famed Chicago nightclub that became “the place to be” for Latin American immigrants in the 1950s and ‘60s, tells the stories of people who come to the US from places like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia seeking a better life.  Delgado serves as sometime narrator and emcee of sorts, graciously yielding the spotlight to a talented ensemble.

The story of Henry and Maruja is perhaps the most inspiring, a tale (inspired by Delgado’s parents) of “marriage by proxy” because the bride’s parents wouldn’t permit her to travel to America as an unmarried woman. Though the accent is sweet and light there are reminders of racism and discrimination behind every corner illustrating that “those dark moments, they make you stronger,” as one character puts it.

Maria Jimena Gastelum, Eduardo Enrikez, and Marlene Martinez attract your attention in the cast. Cheryl Lynn Bruce directs seamlessly, with an ace team including music director Roberto Marin, composer-arranger Cristian Amigo and choreographer Jonny Martinez. The mission provides the perfect setting for the show. www.srg.org

Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” has received two encores in Orange County this summer, Costa Mesa Playhouse’s recent production and now Anaheim’s Chance Theater. I didn’t catch the former but the latter’s stellar rendition of this Pulitzer Prize-winning rock opera (through August 20) is a dynamic yet intimate one, continuing the Chance’s tradition of excellence.

Matthew McCray’s direction and Mo Goodfellow’s choreography prove an electric combination that charges the atmosphere. Commanding the stage are two standouts with real star potential, among the first-rate ensemble cast: Lena Ceja as the doomed heroine, Mimi, and Adam Leiva as Angel, the show’s flamboyant drag queen. Gemma Pederson’s sassy presence distinguishes her in the chorus.

Rock operas are not my jam (give me jazz and classical music) and this show is not talkin’ about my generation, but it’s impossible not to relate to this musical phenomenon about young artists finding themselves and living in the moment. Whether they’re starving and freezing in Paris, as in Puccini’s “La Boheme” (upon which “Rent” is loosely based), or AIDS-ravaged New York a century later, it’s a compelling humanistic drama that hits home.

Lex Leigh’s musical direction, Joe Holbrook’s scenic design and Bradley Allen Lock’s costume design aid and abet Larson’s book, music and lyrics, providing solid grounding for the show. You may be comfortably sitting in a storefront theatre in Anaheim Hills, but the illusion of living poor in Manhattan’s gritty underbelly is a visceral one, making it easy to feel simpatico with the characters. www.ChanceTheater.com

Adam Leiva and JoeJoe McKinney in “Rent” at Chance Theater. Photo by Doug Catiller.

Author: Jordan Young