MIAMI (Billboard) - Latin-themed musicals are a rare
commodity in the theater business.
But an upcoming production based on the life of Cuban music
queen Celia Cruz has potential to reach Latin and mainstream
audiences in a major way.
The biggest draw of "Celia: A Musical Journey," set to open
September 12 off-Broadway at New World Stages, is the artist's
Cruz, who died in July 2003 at 77, was one of the most
universally beloved figures in Latin music. Since her death,
she has been remembered with a handful of biographies, TV
specials, greatest-hits albums and her very own traveling
A musical would undoubtedly draw Cruz fans, but it could
also grow from there.
"In my experience, biographical musicals have to rise above
the anecdote of a person's biography and have a compelling
element many can relate to," said veteran director Susana
Tubert, who is executive producer of Teatro Latino Fest.
"That's what's going to make it cross over into an audience
that may or may not know the icon."
"Celia" comes at a time when there is more receptivity to
Latin-themed musicals, added Tubert, whose directing and
production credits include "The Capeman" and "Four Guys Named
Jose ... and Una Mujer Named Maria."
"In the Heights," a musical about Dominicans set in the
Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, is about to move
to Broadway after a successful six-month run off-Broadway.
Other off-Broadway success stories include "Four Guys Named
Jose" in 2000 and 2001's "Quien Mato a Hector Lavoe?," based on
the life of the Puerto Rican singer (who is also the subject of
the feature film "El Cantante," starring Marc Anthony and
Jennifer Lopez and opening August 1).
But there have also been flops, including 2000's "Selena
Forever," which originated in Texas and shut down before
reaching New York. "The Capeman," produced by Paul Simon in
1998, closed after only three months, despite a stellar cast
that included Anthony and Ruben Blades.
One of the challenges facing Latin musicals, Tubert said,
is infusing an eminently American genre -- musical theater --
with the rhythms and sounds of Latin music. To that end,
"Celia" brings Latin music and theater veterans together.
Henry Cardenas, CEO of event marketing/promotion firm CMN,
secured the rights to the musical production in December 2004,
bringing in investment partners who include reggaeton star
The group is banking on the salability of a show that will
feature many international hits popularized by Cruz, plus an
original score penned by pianist/arranger Isidro Infante and
Oscar Gomez, both longtime Cruz collaborators. Infante will
also act as musical director and lead a nine-piece house
The play's director is Jaime Azpilicueta, a veteran whose
credits include Spanish versions of "My Fair Lady" and "Evita."
The role of Cruz will be played by Xiomara Laugart, a former
singer with tropical/fusion group Yerbabuena who can dance and
act in Spanish and English.
"We're fortunate in that we don't need a (big-name) actress
to lead the play," Fojo says. "The Celia name does the job
Unlike Selena or Lavoe, whose reach was more regional, Cruz
was an international star. Her name will no doubt ring a bell
for thousands of tourists attending New York theaters.
In a departure, "Celia" will run six weekly performances in
English and two in Spanish, with the latter aimed at an older,