Gonna be a star, No matter what it takes,
I’m Jimmy Ramirez and I’m from East L.A.
― singer Jimmy Ramirez’ introduction
The music back in 1965 in East L.A. was brimming with Chicano pride accompanied by infectious beats that kept both the feet and soul grooving along. Before he died in the infamous 1959 plane crash that also robbed the world of singers Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, the tragic event would be forever known as known as the Day the Music Died. Valens was 17 and scored major success with “Donna” and “La Bamba.” Sung completely in Spanish, Valens infused Mexican music with American rock‘n’roll and made it work. Inspired by this, the four-member group, the Eastside Heartbeats, hope to grab some of that notoriety.
Jimmy Ramirez (wonderfully played by Kenneth Miles Ellington Lopez) is the lead singer of the group. Along with handsome looks, and killer dance moves he learns from television and wears his swag like an expensive designer tie, Jimmy has a vision for his group to reach the top and stay there. Jimmy wakes up from a dream where the Eastside Heartbeats perform at the famed Sunset Boulevard rock club Whisky a Go Go. That dream quickly fades when his father Carlos (Gabriel Gonzalez) yells at him for having the music up loud. Danny sadly lowers legendary Motown artist Smokey Robinson, who he deeply admires as much as Valens. Carlos insists that his son forget about his crazy music with its unfamiliar rhythms and nonsensical lyrics and listen to some real music like he and his mother listen to, boleros and rancheros. Word of obvious advice, kids NEVER listen to their parents’ music.
It’s almost a given that what they listen to growing up they would rather stick needles in their eyes and call it a day. Jimmy tries, unsuccessfully to change his dad’s mind until he brings up an important figure in music. “Ritchie Valens was an accident, “Carlos said when Jimmy brings up the late singer’s success. End of discussion. It saddens Jimmy that his parents don’t take his budding music career seriously. He does, however, receive a lot of support from his younger sister Lydia (Angel Marie Galvan).
We’re the Eastside Heartbeats and we’ll take over where Ritchie Valens left off.
With his talented crew watching his back, Mario (Marco Infante), Andy (Jesse Maldonado Salgado) and Ronnie (Matthew Ramos) the Eastside Heartbeats dream beyond what East L.A. offers which is performing in dances and other community events in their area. Jimmy decides to do one last affair at the insistence of his stern father. The Heartbeats sing “La Bamba” but in the modified American version not in the traditional Spanish speaking style. Everyone at the reception is really feeling it and dance. Unfortunately, Carlos is about to have a coronary at this expression of disrespect. Father and son have issues that go beyond music. Besides the generation gap, there’s a lack of communication. Danny wants his father to respect and accept his career choice and dad doesn’t want his son to be crushed when his dreams won’t come true. Carlos later reveals a secret from his past, which finally connects the two men, and has a better understanding.
Meanwhile, the guys finally get a record deal and are beyond ecstatic. At last, recognition and money will follow. But, like most beginning artists, their careers are over before it began. Star maker to no one, Hal Fisher (Jordan Charles does an excellent job playing it shady), promises a lot but delivers nothing. He moves his artists around like a chess game always getting knocked over by the pieces. The Eastside Heartbeats have to wait, once again, for their dream to be a reality.
Playwright Tom Waldman does a phenomenal job in bringing a coming-of-age story with humor and joy. Memories of great singers like Valens and Robinson create solidarity of fans from both cultures. His partner-in- crime, James Holvay, pretty much wrote the soundtrack. Two songs that caught my attention were “Bad Dads,” an ode to infuriating and unsupportive fathers, sung by Jimmy and Eddie (Jahmaul Bakare) and the finale sung by the whole company “We Got Fans.” In keeping in sync with the times, Waldman doesn’t ignore the mentioning of the Watts Riots of 1965 that left an indelible mark on both the Mexican and African-American communities. The event wasn’t pretty, but, hey, it happened and should have a say so. Each side lost something of value and trying to repair it will take a two of work, but it’s still possible.
Music defines us.
— Sonia Ramirez, Danny’s mother
Eastside Heartbeats is wonderful, a great time with a mesmerizing soundtrack, which happens to be for sale. Grab a copy and enjoy the ride home. You won’ regret it.
Eastside HeartBeats: A New Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical plays Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. until Sunday, May 29th, at the main stage at CASA 0101 Theater, located at 2102 East First Street, at St. Louis Street across from the Hollenbeck Police Station, in Boyle Heights. For ticket information, call (323) 263-7684 or reserve online at www.casa0101.org.