Panama The Musical Reviewed by M. Stefan

Who in their right mind would write a Broadway-style musical, set it in Panama in the Roaring 20’s, and with an all Panamanian cast and crew? Who would possibly think they could get the Panamanian Ministry of tourism,

Copa Airlines, Ron Abuelo rum, and others to become sponsors? And then who could possibly have the sheer audacity to think they could attract the attention and assistance of big-time producers, songwriters, scriptwriters and others from Broadway and Toronto?

Were they out of their minds?  Spending too much time baking their brains in the Panamanian sun? Well, T. Rob Brown, Yolanda van der Kolk-Brown, and Tara Van Der Kolk did all that and more!

Over a period of 5 years, they conceived, wrote, rewrote and re-rewrote an amazing musical love story set in 1920’s Panama. They actually found investors and sponsors, one of the best directors in Panama and an amazingly talented cast of Panamanian actors who sing, dance and deliver their lines in English. 

With the help of top-level writers and producers from Canada and the USA, they have refined and re-refined their creation to a point where it is filling seats in one of the largest theaters in Panama, Teatro Ateneo in the City of Knowledge (Ciudad del Saber).

The story: Set in 1927, a mother and 2 daughters are forced to leave the Canal Zone when the father dies and leaves the family destitute.  They move to Casco Viejo.  To make ends meet, the Mama de Luna (superbly portrayed by Gaby Gnazzo) sells her catalog of songs to Eddie Machete, a local cabaret owner (played with perfect raised eyebrow evilness by Randy Dominguez).

Meanwhile, Melody the eldest daughter, wonderfully played by Alexandra Cordoba, wins a trip to New York as 1st prize in a songwriting contest.  Her singing boyfriend Tito (Julio Barsallo) professes his love for her and proposes.

But, alas, things don’t work out as we hope. Sr. Machete has other plans. Before the whole family can escape to New York, Sr. Machete forces them to stay and blackmails the mother into a marriage contract on Melody. So, Tito leaves for New York to pursue fame and fortune as the new Latin Lover, all the while secretly pining for Melody.

Sound a bit far-fetched?  Have you ever actually read the storyline of some of the biggest musical successes?  This is the kind of plot of which hits are made.

In addition to the above-mentioned actors, I feel compelled to highlight the wonderful performances of two other female cast members.

12-year-old Yael Danon as Harmony de Luna is unbelievably talented and poised.  She carries off the role as the younger daughter with a maturity and skill far beyond her years.  Watch for her to shine in international stage and film productions in the years to come.

Also, a revelation is Emely Myles as Yavida.  This woman carries off the secondary but important role as friend and fortune teller.  She belts out a couple of blues-inspired songs which make your heart stop.  I only wish they gave her more songs.  She’s a new Big Moma Thornton in the making.

While everyone is in agreement as to the quality of Panama the Musical, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that my wife and I are minor investors in the Panama production.  Also, a 10% portion of the net proceeds will be donated to the Rotary Club of Playa Coronado’s youth programs.

The play runs through March 4 at Teatro Ateneo in Ciudad del Saber. Tickets available at the box office 30 minutes before each show or