Barrio Babies a Hot Ticket in Denver; Is NYC Next?

News   Barrio Babies a Hot Ticket in Denver; Is NYC Next? Barrio Babies, a new comic musical about five Hispanic performers in search of the American showbiz dream, is virtually sold out in its world premiere run by the Denver Center Theatre Company, through Dec. 30.
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Barrio Babies, a new comic musical about five Hispanic performers in search of the American showbiz dream, is virtually sold out in its world premiere run by the Denver Center Theatre Company, through Dec. 30.

According to a spokesman, only scattered seats are available around Christmas at DCTC's velvet-walled jewelbox called the Ricketson Theatre, one of four venues used by the nonprofit.

New York producer Eric Krebs (Electra, It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues) is eyeing the production for a move to a Manhattan venue following its Denver stand (which opened Nov. 18). If he does determine the show ready, it has not yet been determined if Krebs will choose a Broadway or Off-Broadway space, and it's not clear if any suitable space will be available in early 2000. Krebs told Playbill On-Line that he will make a decision in the next several weeks.

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Krebs was in the Mile High City to see previews of the musical satire (previews began there Nov. 10) and other regional producers are also eyeing the property. Librettist-lyricist Luis Santeiro and composer Fernando Rivas' musical satiric take on cultural types and stereotypes won the Edward Kleban Musical Theatre Award and the Richard Rodgers Development Award. The cast includes Philip Anthony, Sara Ramirez, Annie Kozuch, Edgar Garcia, April Ortiz and Steve Routman.

Producer Krebs (Electra, It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues) first saw a version of the show in 1998 at the annual National Alliance for Musical Theatre showcase in Manhattan. He laughed a lot, he said, but was struck by the depth and sophistication of the work. He snatched up the right to produce it.

"It's funny, it's fun, it's vibrant, it's Salsa and it's very comic in a life- affirming way," Krebs told Playbill On-Line Oct. 8. "It also touches upon an important issue this country continues to face, which is ethnic and racial stereotyping, but with an understanding and a hope about the whole thing."

One song, sung by the group of Hispanic performers yearning for better work and representation in pop culture, has them reading off the lines they're forced to say as TV and movie maids, hookers, gang members, criminals, etc.

Actress Ramirez earned a 1999 Outer Critics Circle nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm. She also appeared in The Capeman.

Krebs all but said that if the show is a smash in Denver, expect it to play New York (depending on venue availability). He worked in tandem with the Denver Center on casting and creative-team choices.

The musical by Santeiro (book and lyrics) and Rivas (music) will be directed by Susana Tubert, with choreography by Footloose's A.C. Ciulla. Designers are Jim Youmans (sets), David Kay Mickelsen (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting) and David White (sound). Musical arrangements and orchestrations are by Rivas, and musical direction is by Douglas Coates.

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Composer Rivas graduated from the Juilliard School of Music in 1977 with a bachelor's in composition. He won the Marion Freschl Prize for Vocal Composition in 1975 and the Princess Grace Foundation Grant in 1986 for outstanding original work in musical theatre. In 1990 he began to write for Children's Television Workshop and has composed a number of songs for "Sesame Street" (they were sung by the likes of Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan and Cyndi Lauper). He earned the Emmy Award for his songs in 1995 and 1996.

In 1997, he won the Richard Rodgers Development Award for Barrio Babies.

Santeiro's plays usually deal with the humorous side of cultural assimilation and include The Lady from Havana, A Royal Affair, Mixed Blessings, The Rooster and the Egg and Our Lady of the Tortilla (which has enjoyed almost 100 productions around the country). Santeiro is also a writer of "Sesame Street," for which he has received 12 Emmy Awards. He was also head writer of the first bilingual sitcom, "Que Pasa, USA?," which premiered on PBS and won him another Emmy.

Cuban-American Santeiro told Sylive Drake of the Denver Center's Applause magazine that he drew on his Hollywood experiences when developing Barrio Babies: "I wrote screenplays, went through that whole process of pitching, getting my hopes up, believing, 'Oh, this one's going to go' and then it doesn't go. That whole thing... With Barrio Babies I wanted to pull all those stories together -- not just my stories, but what I knew all those Latino actors [in Hollywood] were going through. I wanted to talk about what happens to a lot of minority writers. You want to succeed so you end up doing yourself in. Our lead character, Ray, twists his whole reality hoping to get produced..."

Cuban-American composer Fernando Rivas told Applause: "The music is not strictly salsa and not strictly Caribbean. What we've done is try to bring Latino music to the theatre. Not easy, because a lot of Latino music is based on the groove -- dancing or club dancing. It doesn't lend itself well to theatrical situations."

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Director Tubert began her collaboration on Barrio Babies three years ago. Among her directing credits are Santa Concepcion at the Public Theater and The Knee Desires the Dirt for Women's Project & Productions in New York City, as well as many regional productions.

For information about the Denver Center Theatre, call (303) 893-4100 or (800) 641-1222.

-- By Kenneth Jones