New Haarlem Arts Theatre Presents 'Latina's Tale' SWEET CHARITY, Now thru 8/19
The Latino spirit is alive in New Harlem Arts Theatre's production of "Sweet Charity," directed by Julio Agustin, presented tonight, July 26 to August 19 at CCNY's Aaron Davis Hall, 135th Street and Convent Ave.
The characters of the classic sixties musical will be re-envisioned to reflect the changing roles of Latinos in our society while the traditional music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon will be preserved. The 1966 Broadway tuner was originally conceived, staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Director Julio Agustin has tapped choreographer Lainie Munro for the job of nestling his radical new concept into Fosse's formative jazz dances.
"Sweet Charity" was originally based on Federico Fellini's screenplay," Nights of Cabiria," a tale of the romantic ups-and-downs of an ever-hopeful prostitute, with the central character adapted to a dancer-for-hire at a Times Square dance hall. Agustin saw similarities between this endearing protagonist and a succession of Latina stars, including Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Eva Longoria, Eva Mendez, Shakira and Rita Hayworth, each of whom, through tumultuous relationships and (for the most part) public divorces, maintained a public image of innocence and held out hope for a love that is happily-ever-after. ("I am a good, gentle person, but I am attracted to mean personalities" confessed MargaRita Carmen Cansino, better known as Rita Hayworth.) Thus was born an idea to make the title character into Caridad, a Latina Sweet Charity, setting the musical in a neighborhood that is 60s in feel and fun, but also urban, edgy and contemporary.
Watch for a surprising plot twist at the end that gives the female protagonist a strength she hasn't had in past productions.
The production will bridge the world of Latino culture with the traditional sound that is so prevalent in the score of the show. New Haarlem Arts Theatre is the professional resident company of City College of New York (CCNY) and this show draws upon the enormous amount of minority talent that exists in the theater program at CCNY. Its 28 actors will be a mixture of established New York professionals and emerging artists. By opening its casting to current students in the theater program, and also by providing understudy opportunities and double-casting in the chorus and supporting parts, New Haarlem Arts Theatre provides valuable work experience for CCNY students and recent graduates. The company of this show includes six current students and seven CCNY alumni.
The show introduces Edlyn González as Charity/Caridad, supported by Dennis Wit as Herman (Charity's domineering boss), Cedric Leiba, Jr. as Vittorio (Charity's would-be lover/savior) and Jeff Wojcicki as Oscar (Charity's would-be fiancee). Featured are Aili Venho as Helene, Allicia Lawson as Nickie, Jasmine Romero as Ursula, and Tiffany Caserta as Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck.
The male ensemble includes Adam Aguilar Jimenez, Skizzo Armedillo, Wilber Escobar, Ehizoje Azeke, Anthony Martinez, Ari Stachel, Roberto Guzman, Timothy Chan and Bernard Johnson. Standby for Daddy is Alexander Casasnovas.
The female ensemble includes Amy Lee Sanchez, Kelly Rosado, Jade Eshete, Mabel Gomez, Monica Delgado, Maria del Mar Gonzalez, Shiori Ichikawa, Samantha Randolph and Trevania Campbell. Standby for Charity is Alyssa Gomez.
There will be an orchestra of six musicians led by Musical Director Brett Pontecorvo and musical supervision by Andre Danek (keyboardist for "Memphis" on Broadway). Set Designer is Patrice Davidson. Costume Designer is Mary Myers. Lighting Designer is Thurston Reyes. Sound Designer is Aman-re Jack.
Julio Agustin (concept, director) has taught, directed, and performed on and Off-Broadway, regionally, and internationally. He has been a Lecturer and Deputy Chair of the Department of Theatre and Speech at CCNY since 2007. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree from the Florida State University and an MFA in Directing from Penn State University. He has directed productions of "The Wild Party," "Metamorphoses," "School for Scandal, "The Life" and "Whistle Down the Wind" and performed featured roles in the Broadway musicals "Chicago" and "Bells Are Ringing" (revival). He appeared in the original companies of "Fosse," "Never Gonna Dance," "Steel Pier" and the Lincoln Center musical "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," directed by Bartlett Sher. He choreographs annually for the Mid-Atlantic Summer Dance Festival in Virginia and will be an Artist in Residence in Theatre Dance for the James Madison University Dance Program in the spring of 2013. He also coaches voice. He has conducted his Transition Workshop, a career development program for actors, at Western Michigan University, Shenandoah University and Florida State University, among others (www.TheTransitionWorkshop.com). He is a member of SDC, AEA, SAG, AFTRA, and VASTA.
Lainie Munro (choreographer) most recently choreographed "Cabaret" for Music Theatre of CT in Westport. Other productions include an episode of "Hope and Faith" with Kelly Ripa, "Oklahoma" for Broadway Series of Charlotte, "Das Barbecu" for Arvada Center in Denver and "Crazy for You" for Florida State University's Mainstage. Regionally, she directed "Great Day" for Library of Congress and "Cabaret" for Weathervane Rep. She performed in the Cameron Mackintosh/National Theatre of Britain production of "My Fair Lady," which toured 26 U.S. cities in 2007-8. She teaches at Broadway Dance Center, where she is Artistic Director of "The Broadway Big Brother/Big Sister Program."
Edlyn González (Charity/Caridad) was born and raised in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, which is 30-40 miles from San Juan. Her musical theater career was preceded by a dance career with Ballet Concierto, one of the most prominent companies in Puerto Rico, where she appeared in "Les Sylphides" and "The Nutcracker." After graduating University of Puerto Rico, she started training for musical theater and moved to NYC in 2007 after doing "A Christmas Carol" and "A Chorus Line" in PR. Now her regional credits include "A Chorus Line," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Oklahoma," "Rent," "West Side Story" and "Shout, The Mod Musical." She has returned to PR to appear in "Hair" and "Nine." "Sweet Charity" is her first leading role and her New York debut.
Cedric Leiba Jr. (Vittorio) hails from Puerto Rico. His national tours include "Go Diego Go Live!" (as Diego), "Rent" (as Angel) and "Miss Saigon" (Ensemble). Off-Broadway, he has been seen in "Yellow Brick Road (Lucille Lortel), "Kingdom" (Public Theater), "The Happy Embalmer" (Acorn Theatre) and most recently, in "Broadway Bares XXII." He appeared regionally in "Kingdom" at The Old Globe, "Hairspray" at Cape Playhouse and "Aida" at Seaside Music Theatre. He's been a featured vocalist with The Boston Pops (dir. John Williams), The Orlando Philharmonic and The Lincoln Center Songbook Series. He holds degrees from Stetson University and The Boston Conservatory.
Dennis Wit (Herman) began working Off Off Broadway in the late 1970’s after earning his BA from Hofstra University and his MA from York University in Toronto. Recently he appeared in Mario Fratti’s "Quartet" at Theater for the New City and "Triangle" at 59E59 Theater. He played Timothy Hogarth in the long running Off-Broadway hit "Room Service" at the Soho Playhouse. He played Professor Diamond in the commercially released "Romeo and Juliet" in Yiddish, which was one of the first films to play in the new Lincoln Center Theaters. He has appeared on "Sex and the City" and "Saturday Night Live" and can be seen opposite Lindsay Lohan in "Just My Luck."
Jeff Wojcicki (Oscar) is a current student of the theater program at CCNY. He is returning from a production of "Crazy for You" with Ocean City Theatre Company. Other theatre credits include "Hello, Dolly!" (Barnaby Tucker), "Wedding Singer" (Sammy), "Anything Goes," "42nd Street" and "South Pacific." His concert credits include “Swingin Christmas” at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting with Neil Diamond.
Now in its second season, New Haarlem Arts Theatre is also presenting "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by August Wilson, directed by Eugene Nesmith (plays through July 8). A play for young audiences, "Flying Fables," conceived and adapted to the stage by Obie-winner Stephanie Berry, will be presented July 14 to 27. A readings series, "Unheard Voices for the American Theater," curated by Rob Barron, is being presented June 18, June 25 and July 2. All events are at Aaron Davis Hall, W. 135th Street and Convent Avenue. Complete season information is on the NHAT website, www.newhaarlemartstheatre.org.
Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff