Augie Garcia grew up in a tight-knit Mexican-American family in St. Paul's West Side neighborhood, specifically an area know as The Flats across the river from downtown St. Paul. He and his friends were such loyal St. Paulites that they refused to drink Grain Belt beer (brewed "across the river"), only Schmidt or Hamm's would do! Our story picks up when Augie returns from a few harrowing years serving in the Korean War. He's happy to be home with his family, friends, and music, and channels his conflicting feelings about the war into his music. He starts a band called the Augie Garcia quintet (inexplicably with six members) and they become quite successful in the local music scene, with a standing gig at the River Road Club in Mendota. In what was perhaps the highlight of their career, Augie and the boys opened for Elvis and were famously kicked off the stage by Colonel Parker because they were coming dangerously close to upstaging the King. Soon after, fame came a-callin' with the promise of bigger gigs and national attention, forcing Augie (in this interpretation of his life) to do some serious soul-searching and decide what he truly wanted in life. Jersey Boys showed us what happens when you succumb to the dangers of fame and success, but Augie chose a different path. As a result most people today don't know his name, but those who saw him perform remember, and thanks to the History Theatre, so will I.
|a '50s dance party on the History Theatre stage|
|Ricardo Vázquez channels Augie Garcia|
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)
Tom Mays' cool scenic design provides a perfect backdrop for the story. A replica of the Robert Street Bridge, so important in Augie's life and memories, dominates the back of the stage, with the outline of a huge guitar behind it (something I didn't actually notice until I attended the "hiatus concert" by my favorite local band Storyhill on the same stage later that day). The stage on which Augie and the boys perform rolls out for the concert/rehearsal scenes, and then rolls back again to allow room for scenes in Augie's house, a bar, or other locations.
I truly appreciate the History Theatre for bringing to life people who are important in the history of my beloved home state of Minnesota, but who may not be written about in the history books. Augie Garcia is one such Minnesotan, and it's a treat to watch him shine on stage in the person of the uber-talented Ricardo Vázquez, supported by all these great actors, musicians, and dancers. River Road Boogie continues through May 31 (discount tickets available on Goldstar).
*The History Theatre recently announced their new season, and I'm super excited that the season opens with my favorite Raw Stages reading Glensheen, a musical about the famous Duluth mansion and the strange murder mystery that occurred there. My favorite Minnesota playwright Jeffrey Hatcher sets just the right tone, with some really great songs by Chan Polling. Another very promising reading from this year, Complicated Fun, closes out the season next spring. And if you missed Buddy Holly last time around - don't worry, he's back this fall.