On March 21, Playbill On-Line interviewed the Spanish producer Luis Ramirez. Ramirez is a 33-year-old civil engineer who specialized in theatrical architecture, and is the proprietor of Pigmalion Productions, the enterprise that proposes to transform Madrid into a city of musical theater. For this, he has signed diverse agreements with many important companies such as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, to be able to produce the musicals of this famous British composer in Spain.
Disney Theatricals, Cameron Mackintosh, Ocesa (Mexico) and many other prestigious production companies are also negotiating with Ramirez in order to transform Madrid's Gran Via Thoroughfare into something resembling Broadway in New York City or London's West End. Ramirez purchased the Lara Theater and transformed the Cinema Lope de Vega into Madrid's most modern theater. He also began construction on the Principe Pio Theater, which will be Europe's largest with 2200 seats, and which will be the site of the premiere of the first Spanish production of Phantom of the Opera in May 1999.
Nowadays, Pigmalion Productions is staging Man of La Mancha. In just four months, this play has broken all ticket-selling records in Spanish theater (220,000 viewers), and the recording, which was recently released in the market, also had record-breaking sales.
Luis Ramirez welcomed us to the offices of Pigmalion Productions, located a short distance from the Lope De Vega Theater, where Man of La Mancha is playing. After confessing to be a faithful reader of Playbill On-Line, he was kind enough to answer many questions:
PBOL: "Good reviews, theatres filled to capacity, a great number of sell-outs . . . were you really expecting this from Man of La Mancha?"
Ramirez: "I think I was the only one who really believed in its success. Whenever I made comments to my team members, they all brought their hands on top of their heads! But I was sure this was one project that could not fail."
PBOL: "What do you think is the key to La Mancha's success ?
L.R.: "I think numerous factors have come together to make this play successful. The leading characters, Jose Sacristan and Paloma San Basilio, themselves, are very famous and have great popular acceptance. We have a completely new montage, which has nothing to do with the version that premiered in Broadway in the 60s. The orchestrations are also totally new, since we have added more songs to our repertoire. The theater is located in a great place. As a matter of fact, we have received numerous requests for this montage from various production companies all over the world, and soon, the American authors who created it more than 30 years ago will also come to see it."
PBOL: "The play originally planned to remain in Madrid until June. Looking at its great success, you decided to remain until December and then begin touring in South America, Mexico and Miami, later concluding the tour in New York City. How do you think the audience in these countries will welcome this musical? How do you think the audience in the United States would react to a musical of such great format in the Spanish Language?"
L.R.: "In the Spanish-speaking countries, I'm sure it would be a great success, above all, because of the great popularity of Paloma San Basilio, who is an idol to them. As for the North American audience, in developing a great fondness towards musicals, they shall welcome our play very warmly; and not only the Spanish-Speaking community, but the general public as well."
PBOL: "Does it bother you when press calls you the 'Spanish Cameron Mackintosh'?"
L.R.: "Not really. It fills me with great pride that I could be compared to such a living legend of musical theater. Even though I think I have much to accomplish in order to become somewhat like him, I think we have many things in common. We both are investing producers, which I think is something that has never before been seen in this country. In addition to laying down the money for my plays, I interfere directly in all aspects of the musical, like Mackintosh does. For example, my most recent idea is to modify the end of the first act in Man of La Mancha, introducing a scene in the style of 'One Day More' from Les Miserables, in which every character would sing pieces of his or her most-recognized song."
PBOL: "In May of 1999, the first Spanish version of Phantom of the Opera will make its premiere in a brand-new theater. Does such great responsibility worry you ?"
L.R.: "Sure it does. After the great success of Man of La Mancha, the public would expect a great deal from us, but I would rather have that kind of responsibility than end up as a failure. Also, I plan to make this a great spectacle from the beginning. The theater's construction will be an authentic spectacle, using totally innovative construction techniques. From another viewpoint, I think Phantom of the Opera is a musical that sells itself, and it does not need a lot of publicity or famous actors."
PBOL: "Will you respect Phantom's original version, or would you like to introduce modifications as in Man of La Mancha?"
L.R.: "Phantom, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and, in general, all other modern musicals are impossible to modify since the owners of the rights to these plays force you to follow the original pattern. This is why it seems more interesting for me to make revivals of classic musicals such as Man of La Mancha, My Fair Lady, or Fiddler on the Roof, which have many very popular songs but lack modernization. My idea is to have the Lope de Vega Theater for totally modernized versions of classic musicals, and the great Principe Pio Theater for modern musicals."
PBOL: "Have you ever thought of bringing back musicals which have been successful in Spain, such as Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, or Les Miserables?"
L.R.: "For the moment, neither Evita nor Les Miserables are in my plans. As for Jesus Christ Superstar, however, it interests me a bit more because I think the Spanish audience craves a Rock-Opera."
PBOL: "It has been a pleasure speaking to you. We hope you keep reading Playbill On-Line."
L.R.: "Likewise! I hope you keep up the good work." --By Carlos Lorenzo