Thursday, September 06, 2007

Celia Media

The cast of Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz had their press day yesterday in their new home, the second theater of New World Stages, the Off-Broadway theater complex. After a previously announced opening of September 12th, it is now set to officially launch September 26th. Coincidently, that debut will also mark the opening of the Smithsonian’s traveling Celia Cruz ¡AzĂșcar! exhibit at the Museo Alameda in San Antonio, the next leg of its tour. Cruz’s life and legacy look to be well remembered in 2007, just over five years after her death.

The set backdrop used for the event clearly evokes the Old Colonial Spanish architecture of Havana. As for the lead, Xiomara Laugart Sanchez looks well cast as Cruz. Celia will only have two English language performances each week—Saturdays at 5:00 and Sundays at 7:00. During the media session some reporters expressed surprise that there would be any English performances (which seemed odd, given that their interviews were in English). At one point Sanchez spoke of music having no country, and indeed, the music will be the crucial factor in making Celia a success. The fact that Latin music veteran Isidro Infante (who has worked with legends like Cruz, Tito Puente, and the great Machito) serves as musical director is a good sign. Celia’s band also includes former Cruz sideman Luisito Quintero, and Robert Quintero, who has played with the Caribbean Jazz Project. The appearances of Puente and Johnny Pacheco as minor characters are also encouraging factors.

The other crucial test for Celia will be its handling of her years in exile as a result of the rise of Castro’s dictatorship. Perhaps more than any other artist she represented the greatness of Cuba’s musical heritage, no longer welcome in its native land. Paquito D’Rivera devotes a full chapter to her importance in his memoir, writing:

“Celia was one of those special artists, who even away from her homeland became, without realizing it, the person most representative of Cuban national character, with all of its virtues and none of its vices. She tore down all types of racial and generational barriers and transcended all musical, political, sexual, and religious prejudices.” (p. 336-337)

With persistent rumors swirling about Castro’s health, it would be a fitting historical irony if Celia’s opening coincided with the death of the dictator. Regardless, Cruz was a true icon, deserving of a lavish stage tribute.