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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Juan Gabriel Charms at the Rose Bowl


The estimated 75,000 fans who turned out to see Juan Gabriel on Saturday at the Rose Bowl didn't get everything that was advertised, but they were still enthralled by the charisma and music of this Mexican pop idol.

The program--produced and promoted by the Spanish-language Telemundo TV network, which plans to telecast a tape of the show in the near future--was originally billed as "Juan Gabriel y sus mujeres" ("Juan Gabriel and his women").

The idea was to present Juan Gabriel in concert with various female singers who have had hits with his compositions--artists such as Aida Cuevas, Rocio Durcal and the trio Pandora. But only two of the singers--Lucha Villa and Amalia Mendoza--were able to appear at the Bowl.

Juan Gabriel's arrival on stage was as flashy as something you would expect from Michael Jackson. Rather than simply walk into view, the veteran singer was lifted through a hole in the center of the stage.

Wearing a golden cape and an elegant, ocean-blue suit, Juan Gabriel (that's two first names; he uses no surname) embarked quickly on a 2 1/2-hour, nonstop journey. Backed by a virtual army of support musicians (from a full-scale orchestra to three mariachi groups), he touched on everything from the best-known hits from his 22-year-career to a couple of new compositions.

The show was a benefit for Juan Gabriel's orphanage in Chihuahua, Mexico, but the singer didn't treat the performance as a casual benefit. There were no long-winded speeches or delays while musicians got ready for the next tune. Most of all, Juan Gabriel seemed thoroughly involved with the music.

The mariachi groups--Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Fernando Delgado's Sol de America and Arriba Juarez--were especially effective elements in the production. Even before Juan Gabriel arrived on stage, the three groups contributed to the festive spirit of the evening by jointly playing an energetic version of the traditional favorite "Mexico lindo y querido" ("Mexico Beautiful and Dear").

They also accompanied Juan Gabriel in the most enjoyable set of the evening--a mariachi medley, consisting of traditional tunes and some of his own compositions.

It was during the mariachi segment that Villa, one of Mexico's most gifted vocalists, joined Juan Gabriel for the evening's most touching moment: an intense, beautifully performed version of "La interesadita" ("The Interested One").

Despite the guest singers and hordes of musicians, it was really Juan Gabriel's show--and he did a masterful job of entertaining. Everything about the performance--all the way down to a more sedate than usual wardrobe--suggested this was a special evening for him.

One reason may have been the benefit nature of the show (Juan Gabriel spent most of his childhood in an orphanage). But also, one sensed he was taking advantage of this huge setting to celebrate his own musical legacy. And it's a remarkable legacy, indeed.

Juan Gabriel returns on Oct. 1-3 at the Universal Amphitheatre.

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