NATIONAL PASTIME, New Musical THE PAPARAZZI Knocking Down Walls in U.S./Mexico Collaboration
It was near the closing of the Off-Broadway musical Sessions in 2009 when producer/GM Jason Hewitt walked into fellow producer Tony Sportiello's office and posed the question, "You know where we have to take this show next?"
"Broadway?" Sportiello asked. Hewitt shook his head and gave an unexpected answer. "Guadalajara, Mexico."
Thus began an extraordinary collaboration between the two countries. It all started when Mauricio Cedeno, one of Mexico's leading theatrical directors, came to see Sessions in New York during its fourteen month run. He saw the potential of Sessions playing in Guadalajara, a city of more than five million people. He contacted Hewitt and they began a dialogue over how the show would work under Cedeno's direction and with actors from the city of Guadalajara.
Therapy is rare in Mexico and group therapy almost unheard of, but neither Tapper or Cedeno viewed that as a problem. "The issues in Sessions are universal," Tapper explained to the press of Guadalajara. "In every culture there is abuse, in every culture there is loneliness, in every culture there are problems between parents and children.
Cedeno agreed. "Guadalajara will embrace Sessions precisely because it is something they find unique and interesting. Peering into another world."
A few years later, Sportiello and Tapper were working on a new musical, entitled National Pastime, produced by Robyn Goodman and directed by Hunter Foster. "We were going to the Bucks County Playhouse," Sportiello recalls. "And we were having our second to last run through in New York. Mauricio was in town and we invited him to come see it, along with about fifty friends. It was one of the worst run throughs of the show. Nothing worked, nobody laughed, polite applause. But somehow Mau saw the show's potential. That's what makes him a great director. He's not influenced by what's going on around him, all he cares about is his own opinion."
Cedeno's judgment was once again confirmed. The Spanish version of National Pastime took home top honors at the 2017 Met Jalisco Awards, winning Best Director (Cedeno), Best Actress (Giselle Restilli) and Best Production.
But the awards are secondary to these artists. It's the collaboration that matters, especially in these turbulent political times. "Working with the artists of National Pastime and interacting with the amazing people of Mexico has been a highlight of my life," Sportiello says. "The cast and crew of both Sessions and National Pastime are hard working, incredibly talented people who still maintain the joy of doing theater. If the misguided politicians who want to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. were to actually spend any time there they would be looking at ways to increase the flow of traffic between the two countries and not hinder it."
Tapper and Sportiello are now developing a new musical, The Paparazzi. And they hope this show finds its way south of the border as well. "I've been to Guadalajara so many times now I'm thinking of applying for dual citizenship," Sportiello joked.
He'll be going back one more time this year as National Pastime gets a new production at the historic Teatro Vivian Blumenthal, starting December 7th.
Pictured: The cast of National Pastime, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2017.