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Review: 'El Grande de Coca Cola' at Ruskin is shorter, just as funny

Since it was first produced in London almost 40 years ago, “El Grande de Coca Cola,” a farcical revue set in a third-rate cabaret somewhere south of the border, has been widely produced worldwide. Alan Shearman and Ron House, who share co-writer credits with Diz White and John Neville-Andrews, both starred in the hit 1973 off-Broadway run, which ran three years, and a subsequent, less successful 1986 revival.

Now, Shearman and House return to their inspired folly in a reprise production at the Ruskin Group Theatre. Directed by Shearman, the show again stars House, who re-creates his off-Broadway turn as Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, a wannabe Mr. Show Business who oversees a group of performers – his relatives, all – in a mind-bogglingly inept variety show delivered mostly in gibberish Spanish. 

In past productions, “El Grande” ran a leisurely two acts – a daunting amount of time to sustain such silliness. The updated, one-act Ruskin production, which features a raft of new comic material, runs a breezy 75 minutes – and the comic momentum never flags.

FULL COVERAGE: 2013 Spring arts preview

Don Pedro’s daughters (Lila Dupree and Nina Brissey) are both hopeful that they’ll snag a rich American tourist and escape this wretched show. Don Pedro’s other relatives, Juan and Miguel Rodriguez (Aaron Jackson and David Lago, respectively), round out the company, which whirls through the program of howlingly awful novelty acts. Paul Denk also appears in a cameo turn.

Tor Campbell choreographed the deftly clumsy dance numbers, and Sarah Figoten Wilson’s extravagantly tacky costumes are a delight to behold. House, who sports a hairpiece that looks like a small animal in distress, is the linchpin of the show, but the rest of the perfectly cast performers are amazingly agile and cheerfully off-the-wall. 

If you’re not fond of broad slapstick, give this show a very wide berth.  But if you’re in the mood to get goofy and giggle, this could be your ticket.


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“El Grande De Coca Cola,”Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Aug. 31.  $25.  (310) 397-3244. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.


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