By Amy Patton

He’s a character you’ll love to hate and hate to love.

I’m talking about the true saga of Joseph “Bum” Farto, the 1970s Key West fire chief whose sideways hustle – along with a handful of city officials – seemed to allow the unfettered flow of cocaine and marijuana to United States using the tiny island city as a single port of entry.

Apparently, Farto was selling the illegal drugs quite casually from a bench next to the Key West fire station and using his lime-green Ford Galaxy as a sort of drive-through drug market. Yet the leader was also seen as something of a folk hero; he was an avid fan of local high school sports, and his wild antics were generally well received by the community. Well, until the Feds catch him. After a trial and conviction for drug trafficking, Farto, released on bail, disappeared without a trace in the mid-1970s and was never found.

Now on stage in its two-week run at the San Carlos Institute on Duval Street is the brash and daring production of “Bum Farto, The Musical,” a dance and music-driven tale directed by Pamela Stephenson Connolly. The show is scored by Dan Krysa and Connolly with collaborator La Mexx (Juliette Chavarria), a Latin lyricist and singer.

Tybalt Ulrich shines as the anti-hero Farto.

The narrative of “Farto” tells the funky story of Key West. The fun and flashy production is a grand take on musical entertainment featuring dancers and performers from Connolly’s local studio Pasión Project. Among them is Ronnie Dutra, who plays FBI Special Agent Gary Silva, a character who doggedly pursues Farto with his attractive associate agent, Janice Miller (played by Lena Thieme).

Fancy a little lambada, salsa or bachata for an evening? It’s all about Latin dancing in this production, Connolly remarked. “Master Braz Dos Santos (as agent Rodrigo Ferarri) is the greatest lambada dancer in the world. People come from all over the world to train with him in Pasión.

The 90-minute production “Bum Farto” is a flamboyant time capsule of a musical, with solid production values ​​and compelling dance moves. Broadway star Aaron LaVigne (“Jesus Christ Superstar”) is a guest performer. He plays the aberrant character Brutus, an opiate-addicted hippie who also happens to be an FBI informant passing information to law enforcement, a move that leads to serious complications for Farto and his gang of corrupt Key West officials. 1970s.

Cheering spectators gathered outside the theater during intermission on opening night Oct. 13 for a gabfest. “I’m totally blown away by this show,” remarked Key West local Lisa Daley. “I’m coming back to see this again. The acoustics in (the San Carlos) are amazing. I’m not really the type to go to the theater, but I love it.

Dan Krysa, the musician behind the score for “Farto,” is particularly proud of two songs he wrote in tandem with choreographer and lyricist Connolly. “Smoke Your Tuna Here” and “Conch Life” are iconic freewheeling Key West tunes that existed decades ago. It has become common for fishermen to roll bales of marijuana that have been dumped in the ocean by South American smugglers heading for the southernmost point of this country whose borders were – to say the least – porous. at the time. When prosecuted by US officials, drug traffickers would throw the then-illegal shipment of weed overboard. The “caught” balls were jokingly called “square grouper”.

Krysa said he was partially inspired while composing the show by the catchy riffs found in children’s music. “I love hooks in simple songs. My goal was to write songs that were original but simple in their structure. I like that.” Krysa credits house sound engineer Ethan Davis with the smooth transitions between numbers and the rhythm of “Farto’s” sound effects. “(Davis is) phenomenal at smoothing out resonant frequencies in this performance space,” Krysa said.

The three-piece band on stage includes lead guitarist Myles Mancuso, drummer Drew McKeon (who has played with stars like Michael Bolton and Hall & Oates). Singer Joey Trambino shines with an incendiary stage presence. A background screen provides visual elements and story support.

“Bum Farto, The Musical” brazenly exposes the myths and truths of Farto, whose hubris seemed to know no bounds in a decade when the Conch Republic seemed immune to the rules, regulations, and pesky things of the land like federal laws. on drugs. Yet we somehow identify with the character’s charm despite his flawed moral compass. We support him and his long-suffering wife, Esther (Jessica Lamdon).

“I’m very proud of this product that we’ve created,” Connolly said. “I started this project during COVID, so it was a tough undertaking, but it’s very exciting to do an original show. It says something very beautiful about Key West with its rich but crazy history,” a- she laughed, “It seems to attract some very interesting people, some of whom are downright eccentric. The quirky tapestry of this place is the real message of the show.”

At the end of the October 13 performance, theater fan John Costa said, “We enjoy the dancing and all the antics, but the music is what got me here,” citing the talents of guitarist Mancuso. “He kills him.”

But don’t expect a polished ending to this heady blast from the past. The truth is, Farto’s legendary misdeeds may never be fully understood. If the former Key West fire chief were alive today, he would be nearly 100 years old.

So his fate – or his fortune – will likely remain a mystery forever.

“Bum Farto, The Musical” runs through October 27 at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval St., Key West. Visit bumfartothemusical.com for ticket information and show times.

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