“Viva” inverts the premise of “La Cage aux Folles” and moves the story to the not-so-mean, but ever-so-gritty streets of Havana, Cuba. Jesus is a young, gay hairdresser with aspirations to become a female impersonator. Angel is his father, a straight boxer, wife-beater, ex-con, alcoholic, and general ne’er-do-well, with an open secret (he’s dying).

The original “La Cage aux Folles” was a French-Italian co-production. “Viva” is an Irish production with a Cuban cast, in Spanish, with English subtitles (which are rather more vulgar than the original script). It is the second major movie shot in Cuba coming out this April 29. (The other is “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba.”)

Both feature performances that elevate the world of drag queens to high art. Both deal with the struggle for acceptance and reconciliation of very alternative families. Instead of the disco “We Are Family” of “The Birdcage” (1996 remake of “La Cage aux Folles” set in Florida), “Viva” is as redolent with Cuban music as a dish of ropa vieja.

The movie takes longer than a US audience would like to set up the story, and drags in the middle (pun and all). But the ending provides the message, like “La Cage,” that love — and music– triumph.

Phil Neches


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