Street performers are often discounted as not being very good because, well, they're street performers. But if you've ever happened upon them in places like San Francisco or Anaheim, for example, that myth is quickly discounted. These brilliant, fun romps with the unexpected are often the highlight of the visit.
Watching these performers' antics, their ability not only to attract the attention of busy people on the move but to keep them engaged, laughing, involved and participating in a show with improvisation and surprise indicates a talent that harkens back to the days of vaudeville.
These performers know going in people are not there to see them personally so they have to work fast so people won't lose interest — in other words, like comedy itself, timing and content are everything — and vintage performers didn't have a lot of time to build up to an explosive finish so they incorporated a lot of elements with big impacts to use that time wisely.
A new show to Laughlin incorporates many of those elements into a evening that can only be described as musical mayhem as three caballeros take to the stage to perform "Olé! Gods of La Guitarra" from Wednesday-Sunday, May 1-5, in Don's Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort.
The show was created by Paul Morocco, who learned his craft of comedy, juggling, visual clowning and music on the streets of New Orleans, New York and London. In 1984, he left his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with a guitar, a bag of fruit, a pocket full of ping-pong balls and little else, headed for parts unknown. He has perfected the art of being silly.
Along the way, he met fellow "gods" flamenco guitarist Marcial Heredia and singer/guitarist Guillermo (Willie) De Endaya and together they've been performing "Olé!" since 1996.
Heredia was born into a family of musicians and flamenco artists in Hannover, Germany, in 1970. He started playing at 7 years old, first learning the Spanish guitar. After several years playing professionally in his family's well-respected flamenco stage show, Heredia went to England, where he had the chance to explore musical styles like funk, blues and jazz.
Later, in “Ole!” he mixed this fusion of influences with his own flamenco traditions to develop his own style and character.
Born in Bilbao, Spain, De Endaya started playing guitar at the age of 14. He led several bands as a singer, guitarist and composer performing in clubs and festivals in the Basque Country.
In 1990, he moved to southern Germany where he founded the Willie Endaya Band and played his own songs for about four years before joining “Ole!” in 1996.
Throughout his early years he performed solo guitar and sang and he still performs his own vast repertoire of pop, rock and jazz standards.
Since the time the trio joined forces and created the show, they have performed around the world many times, earning several awards in the process. The show is many things to many people and there is so much to see and take in. Who says you can't please all the people all the time? Audiences are warned to buckle up and hang on for a non-stop rollercoaster ride of belly laughs and fun.
Even talking to Morocco via a phone interview brought out his inner clown. Apparently his cell phone wasn't working, so he convinced a Casey's General Store worker to let him use her phone for the interview after his attempts to call our office apparently weren’t working.
We talked about the guys, their history and the show they bring to the Riverside. Here's his take…
Talk about the show you're bringing to town.
First, we're really excited coming to you, and spending five days there. It's gonna be amazing, I don't know that part of Nevada — we don't know very much about Nevada anyway. I would say the show is very audience-interactive. It's three virtuoso Spanish guitar musicians. First thing we do is hit the audience with is the quality of the music — for a comedy show, it's not usual.
Everyone, except myself, are proper musicians who then went into comedy and performance. I was always a "wanna-be" musician, but I got better over the years. Essentially, we're playing three eccentric macho guys — it's a little bit of the good, the bad and the ugly. So we have "El Macho," which is sometimes called "El Guapo," and then there's "El Gentleman," who's more soft, a more academically-looking character (a little bit like Laurel and Hardy). El Macho is more like a Spanish Danny DeVito and then my character is "El Loco." I sort of always go out of the box — completely out of the box. I'm doing more of the clowning and juggling, but we're all three playing these kind of archetypical guys, and we compete for the love of "Maria," using our Spanish guitars. In our little world, we're playing off the Spanish-Latino clichés where every man is called "Carlos," and every woman is called "Maria." There's a little bit of Spanish cowboy inside all of us, we call it the "Spaghetti Western Effect."
The show has a lot of twists and turns and surprises, there's short competitive songs with lots of pop references, and then we're singing to a woman in the audience, we're throwing and spinning our guitars, at a choreographic, rhythmic pace — it's quite a mix of a show. It has theatricality, it has visual slapstick, it has great music inside, and it takes people through quite a modern mixed bag — it's got a vaudeville base but then it also kind of goes forward in sort of a more modern approach, but it's definitely old school if you're comparing it to contemporary stuff. It's kind of like Levis — they never go out of style.
Talk about the other guys in the show.
One is from south Spain, he's a gypsy, Marcial Heredia, he's from a famous flamenco family, so he really is a real flamenco guy. His sister is a famous singer, Chonchi Heredia, who sang with Paco De Lucia, who's like a guitar god of Spain. If you're into music, you know about Paco De Lucia. And Willie De Endaya, he's from North Spain, he's actually Basque, and he was in a big band, he was a drummer. He's a great pop performer. We call him "Willie IPod," because he knows so many pop songs. He's the gentler, slower character. Marcial is speedy, more like Speedy Gonzalez, and I'm sort of everywhere and nowhere, but I pretend to be the leader.
I created the show and I'm the producer, but somehow I was a street performer so I used to pass the hat for several years, and I developed in the London comedy scene, and the cabarets and theaters and I'm actually from Virginia, by the way.
Street performers learn quickly how to hold an uncooperative audience in the palms of their hands and capture their attention when they least expect it or want it. So you have paid your dues and earned respect for your tenacity in learning your craft in that medium.
People are not always kind and they don't always get that. I was the guy who got musicians to throw their guitars and put ping pong balls in their mouths and they got me to try to stay on the beat and follow more structure and detail. I worked with lots of musicians before, (they weren't that good) but the three of us have been together 20-22 years, so we're quite synchronized, and we're quite different as three people can be — they speak Spanish, I do a kind of Spanglish, but after 20 years, I think I speak probably better than your average American.
People don't know that a lot of popular performers started out as street performers.
Robin Williams did street performing and he had a lot experience doing that. The Blue Man Group actually were previously street performers. What I can say about the street performing is I learned the craft of getting an audience and keeping the audience, and being able to improvise. For me, if you're losing the audience, the show is going down, that's just when you pull things out of the seat of your pants — you have to have that grit, you know? Then you learn when things go wrong you know how to pull it up. But we don't need to do that so much in this show because we've got the music, the structure, they clap when you arrive, it's a little bit of an easier way. And I don't do so much improvisation — there's always improvisation, but in smaller places. It's more about when I can do it where I don't affect the other guys. I'd say the show's got a loose structure that we can always respond to things, and we can bring in some little personal organic feelings on stage and I think that shows as well.
How much is planned and how much is spontaneous?
I have to say for a professional international show that's been around, we actually don't talk very much about what we're gonna do — and it's not because it's all scripted. It's just that we've repeated the pattern, we've repeated the physical, visual, musical sound and personal so often that we know if it's not precise here or there, it's OK. I don't think we know how to be precise, 'cause we don't work like that any more. It's very much like old middle-aged guys who have done it for a long time. It's like trying to ask an old tree, “Why are you standing that way?"
Even with vintage elements like vaudeville and slapstick, you've brought them into the modern age and you've made them fun again.
I guess the modern part is really the level of the musicianship, and that is already gonna get the people because they already enjoy that part. Marcial is amazing for that on guitar — he's exceptional, I mean he's world class and Willie is just lovable and gentle, and he just jumps into all these kinds of songs, you can't imagine someone who can sing that well. He's very refined and detailed, and then I'm sort of the master of mayhem and always things going wrong. I'm coming out as a little bit of a dreamer, fantasist and clown somewhere in between all that. I would say that's perhaps the modern part, the level of the music and also the sharpness and the tempo of the show. It's more of a modern tempo, whatever that means.
Is there a song or segment that goes over well no matter where you guys are?
Everything is familiar. We give the audience immediately the reference of the good, the bad and the ugly, which fits very well. Then we're into a rumba and everybody likes rumba. They hear the Spanish guitar so they're really attracted to that sound. As a boy, when I heard Spanish guitar it used to make me melt and inspire me — there was something about that handmade thing. Even country western people like it, even rock people like it, it's something of an older tradition, so it's got more weight behind it as an artform. So all the songs we're gonna mix into "rumba," swings, pop, blues, flamenco, Gypsy Kings, Bee Gees, "I Believe I Can Fly," all these kind of songs, so we really hit a potpourri of genres so nobody feels left out, you know?
What else would you like people to know about you?
We've won five or six awards from Edinburgh Festival to Just For Laughs, to a Cannes performance to Germany, and to Italy. It's not to brag, it's just letting people know, 'cause they don't know us. We've done more than a couple hundred TV shows, and theater stuff worldwide. You can say we've performed for English royalty, Dutch royalty and American royalty — Oprah Winfrey. We did a private hire — she rented a Norwegian ship and she brought all her staff and family for a cruise. She brought over her own entertainment director from a company called Event Architects, in Chicago, who did the Obama Inaugural celebrations. He actually picked us out and we were one of the featured shows for the cruise.