Stephanie Trudeau is a one woman tour de force as she serves up an informative and transformative docu-cabaret following the life and songs of legendary Latin American ranchera singer, Chavela Vargas, accompanied by a simple solo acoustic guitar. Having overheard two Americans beforehand complain that they had missed Trudeau’s performance in LA and New York, I expected much from this globe-trotting show – I was not disappointed.
But who you may well ask, or rather was, Chavela. Well, from the sound that comes from Trudeau it is clear from the start that she was firstly an extraordinary singer. Trudeau has the ability to modulate her voice from a teenage girl, to an ancient husky (male) ranchero, sometimes in the same song! Perhaps it is the liberal quantities of Tequila that help to loosen those vocal chords, but whatever it is, Trudeau’s voice is, as one of Chavela’s many muses describes, ‘a blessing of ripe fruit’. Trudeau even manages, somehow, to include a Hamiltonesque rap which leans companionably against the hot and husky Latin numbers.
Donning a colourful Jorongo, a heavy blanket-like Mexican poncho, Trudeau guides us from Chavela’s humble beginnings – a farmer’s daughter, born in 1919 in poverty-stricken Costa Rica then to Mexico, then four years later Cuba, then back to Mexico, brought to life through songs of lust and longing.
It was in Mexico City, the great creative hub of Latin America in the 1950s and 60s that Chavela ultimately rose to fame – a time of art and poetry, parties and love affairs, consuming ‘mucho tequila’ and always waking up in bed with someone new, one time it was Eva Gardiner! By the 1970s however she was gone, a spent force, an alcoholic, consumed by her beloved tequila. It would be fifteen years before she sang again, and this time, for the first time, sober. One of her last concerts, at the age of 83 was at Carnegie Hall. She died in 2012 at the age of 93. Some call Chavela the first Feminist, there is no doubt she has relevance today on gender issues, LGBTQ+ rights and Mexican culture.
This was a polished performance, of a lovingly crafted product, showcasing the extraordinary voice of Stephanie Trudeau.
It’s good to hear that Becoming Chavela has now been made into a film and has recently been selected for the LA Sun Film Festival. It will be a chance for others to see and hear the phenomenon that is Chavela-Trudeau and a life very well lived.
Running time – 55 mins
Reviewer: Greg Holstead
Reviewed: 6th August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★