Great Performances: La Pastorela

Great Performances: La Pastorela is the best new Christmas special of the year, a boldly unconventional version of a pastorela, or shepherd’s tale, the centuries-old Spanish variation on the Nativity story. Writer-director Luis Valdez (La Bamba, Zoot Suit) has brought the tale up to date by centering it on Gila (Stand and Deliver‘s Karla Montana), a poor Mexican girl who has a vision of the angel St. Michael, played in glowing white wings and without a trace of campiness by Linda Ronstadt.Great Performances: La Pastorela ”Wow! This is totally serious!” says Gila upon seeing St. Michael. ”Am I dead?” ”You’ve never been more alive,” says the apparition, whereupon Ronstadt bursts into a song, sung in Spanish, telling Gila that she must gather a group of local shepherds and make her way to the Christ Child. Along the way, these pilgrims’ progress is impeded by the devil (a goggle-eyed but effectively threatening Paul Rodriguez) and abetted by many lovely musical numbers supplied by the band Los Lobos as well as country star Freddy Fender.

The great thing about Valdez’s adaptation is that he doesn’t reduce the story to a dewy-eyed parable — the director makes the girl’s journey a frightening, arduous one. Thus when she finally does arrive to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, there’s a sense that she — and we — have really been through a special experience. La Pastorela goes on a bit too long — it could easily be cut to an hour — but it deserves to become an annual TV event. A

Great Performances: La Pastorela
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