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Producer: Julio Caro, Simon Fields, Jennifer Lopez, David Maldonado
Screenplay: David Darmstaedter, Leon Ichaso
Cinematographer: Claudio Chea
Editor: David Tedeschi
Production Designer: Sharon Lomofsky
Sound: Danny A. Abeckaser
Music: Willie Colón
Principal Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, John Ortiz, Vincent Laresca, Manny Perez
Bring on the Nuyorican soul. This biography of Hector Lavoe, salsa music’s celebrated vocalist, luxuriates in vibrant musical numbers, heart-wrenching drama and the palpable chemistry between chart-topping superstars – and real-life husband and wife – Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.
Hector (Anthony) is a humble Puerto Rican singer who feels the pull of stardom leading him to the United States in the early sixties. Once in New York, he quickly captures the attention of the local musicians – impressed by his emotive singing style – and Puchi (Lopez), a tough-talking beauty who becomes Hector’s advisor as well as his one true love. She gives him the confidence he needs to partner with his long-time collaborator, trombonist Willie Colón ( John Ortiz), and their label, Fania Records – and to pioneer a sound combining Puerto Rican and American influences: salsa.
His natural charisma and arresting voice means he rides high on sold-out concerts, dozens of hits and best-selling albums, but Hector can’t escape the allure of drugs and the pain of his father’s rejection. Even Puchi ultimately throws up her hands at his unwavering self-sabotage. As she says: "Love is never perfect when it’s real love."
As the couple move from the glory days of the seventies to the bleak realities of the eighties, their relationship flames out in wrenching scenes of personal tragedy. El Cantante purges its difficult emotions with a touching final tribute, as director Leon Ichaso incorporates footage of the real-life Lavoe’s funeral in 1993, for which thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to pay their respects.
The stellar performances make this end seem all the more poignant and proud. The fabulous Lopez delivers the goods as Puchi: all tight dresses, oversized sunglasses and sexy New York brass. Anthony is a revelation, bringing a pitch-perfect combination of charm and vulnerability to the endearing but star-crossed Hector. His captivating vocals adorn re-recordings of Lavoe’s hits – an unforgettable repertoire of classic songs that enrich the story with all the lustiness, joy and heartbreak this music conveys – in entrancing concert set-pieces. El Cantante is a must-see, a tale of love and loss set to an irresistible clave beat.