Throw together the stock bits about the importance of friendship, family and love from holiday TV standards, add a bossa nova beat and you'll have "Paquito's Christmas," a musical for kids that played Tuesday and last night at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. Luis Avalos, best known as an actor on "The Electric Company," wrote the book and lyrics and directed this production, brought to town from Los Angeles by the Washington Opera.
Why did our prestigious opera company bring a kiddie musical to the Kennedy Center? The link was this show's young lead, Dominic Domingo, 11-year-old grandson of tenor Placido Domingo. The senior Domingo is the Washington Opera's artistic director, and it's part of his vision to bring family members to our stage: His wife, Marta, directs an opera with the company each season. It's all a Domingo tradition: As a boy, Placido sang in his parents' zarzuela company.
Undeniably, young Dominic, who has been performing since he was 6, is a cute kid, a little big for his age, blessed with poise, plenty of stage presence and a comfortable singing style. He plays Paquito, a straight-A student whose father, now unemployed, cannot buy him a fancy present for Christmas. Paquito throws a tantrum and runs away from home, setting up a multicultural coming-of-age tale.
Along the way to mild enlightenment we encounter a joyous street fiesta and a gang of rapping hoodlums--the two liveliest numbers in the show--and find sympathy for abused children, Holocaust survivors and old people who spend Christmas alone. In the end, Paquito realizes that he has a pretty good life, and the family is happily reunited.
Roberto Alcaraz played the father with a sweet disposition, and there were likable contributions from Marabina Jaimes as Paquito's mother and Rebecca Brand as Rachel. Among the child performers, the best were Lisa Pasinelli as a sassy little girl and Michael Mendez, singing a high-spirited Beto.
Emilio Kauderer conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and wrote the score, a mix of various Latin dance rhythms and simple songs for solo voice, all easily digested before the show was over.