Barrio Babies, a new comic musical about five Latino performers in search of the American showbiz dream, is expected to be the next tenant at Off-Broadway's John Houseman Theatre, following the Sept. 3 close of Over the River and Through the Woods.
Producer Eric Krebs, the Houseman's artistic director, told Playbill On Line an announcement about the next show at his theatre would come within a week or so, but would not discuss titles.
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. A world premiere staging was virtually sold out at Denver Center Theatre Company's Ricketson Theatre Nov. 10-Dec. 30, 1999.
Krebs (Electra, It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues) was linked to the show even then. He previously told Playbill On Line he 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, 1999. "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 in the Denver run, 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.
The musical by Santeiro (book and lyrics) and Rivas (music) was directed by Susana Tubert, with choreography by Footloose's A.C. Ciulla. Designers were Jim Youmans (sets), David Kay Mickelsen (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting) and David White (sound). Musical arrangements and orchestrations were by Rivas.
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 Sylvie 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."
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.
-- By Kenneth Jones