Thanks to director Leon Ichaso, I got to see an advance screening of the film El Cantante. Ichaso found out that I’m a huge Hector Lavoe fan, so he invited me to see the film. To me, the Willie Colon albums with Hector Lavoe singing rank up there with such albums as Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, What’s Going On?, Innervisions, London Calling, Straight Outta Compton, Nevermind & Low End Theory. They are that good.
Lavoe’s story is legendary. His voice captivated a generation and pushed Salsa into the forefront. In the Fania Records heyday, the artists were filling up concert halls all over the world, including selling out Yankee Stadium. There were many talented musicians that were responsible for making Fania a giant in the record business, but Hector was Fania’s rock star. With that came his tragic rock star life.
In the movie, Marc Anthony has the daunting task of playing Hector Lavoe. For not being a Marc Anthony fan I think he does adequate job of it. During the film, especially during the live sequences, it's easy to forget Marc isn’t Hector. The same cannot be said about J-Lo. Jennifer Lopez plays the part of Lavoe’s wife, Puchi, and she never stops being J-Lo, perhaps her biggest downfall as an actress. There are very few moments when she slips out of the J-Lo role and is somewhat believable. Most of the film is done as a narrative from Jo-Lo’s character's point of view, a la a Behind The Music piece. It would have been better to skip that all together and perhaps develop a better script that gave the characters more depth. The rest of the cast is only serviceable, just enough to keep the story moving along. Besides the script never allowing the supporting cast room to develop, it never showed the development of the revolutionary style of music called Salsa. The way the film portrayed the origins of Salsa was as if the style developed overnight. rather than showing it was music that developed through time. The movie's pace seemed better suited for a T.V. movie. I wanted more from this movie than it could ever give me.
I have to say, to my surprise, the music is great. The score was done by composer/producer Andres Levin of Yerba Buena and he does an excellent job. Marc Anthony's renditions of the Lavoe classic are admirable in that he retains his style while trying to match Lavoe note per note. It would have been a mistake to try to emulate Lavoe’s voice because no one has ever sounded like him, before or since. There was too much pain in his voice, too much tragedy and that’s what made his voice unique.
Overall, I think movie critics and core Salsa heads will pan the movie and dissect every inch of it. I don’t believe Ichaso or the Anthony/Lopez team had them in mind when they made this film. They made the film for the audience who knew nothing about the legend before watching this movie. I’m still often surprised when music lovers, especially Latinos, have never heard Willie Colon’s or Hector Lavoe's music. He is so important to many of us who are fans of their music. Their music was the soundtrack to many of our tragic tales and joyful moments. Hopefully this movie will expose another generation of people the greatness of Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon and all the other great Fania recording artists not portrayed in this film.