Interview: Ruben Santiago-Hudson on bringing DESTINY OF DESIRE to life on stage at The Old Globe

Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson discusses his vision for bringing the beloved telenovela genre to live theatre in the production of DESTINY OF DESIRE.

By: May. 31, 2023

Interview: Ruben Santiago-Hudson on bringing DESTINY OF DESIRE to life on stage at The Old Globe

Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson is no stranger to the stage or screen, having won two Tony Awards for directing JITNEY and SEVEN GUITARS, as well as years of tv and movie roles.  In between working on the show, he was able to chat with me about bringing that talent and experience to DESTINY OF DESIRE, the loving homage to the telenovela, now playing at The Old Globe through June 25th.  

Full of love, joy, betrayal, and so many plot twists, DESTINY OF DESIRE is high energy and hilarious as it follows the story of two girls who were swapped at birth by a ruthless beauty queen.  One grows up in wealth, one in poverty, but both are destined for a life with no shortage of extraordinary events. 

Ruben Santiago-Hudson has had an impressive and varied career, and he was excited for the opportunity to work on this subversive but celebratory look at a genre that is celebrated all over the world.  The play had been done a handful of times in previous places before, but he knew if he was going to do it, then he needed to do it his way.   Ruben reached out to playwright Karen Zacarías to talk about his vision and get her permission to experiment with it to see what would work.

Let's put it together because I’ve got a vision for this play. So first I have to be clear with the writer that she's willing to take a play that she's seen to be received wonderfully and see me figure it out...

For me, it's not redoing it, it's just doing it for the first time because I have never seen it. I don't know the play. So that means you're going to sit in the room and see me try and stuff.”

The key to the play Santiago-Hudson says is paying respect to both the telenovela and the live theatre theatricality, to create this world on stage that feels true to both mediums.

“I do a lot of things in the play that pay respect to both. The set, the way I do my lights are very telenovela-ish, sometimes there are things that are overdramatic; you know, they exert more emotion and impact than normal things that are bigger than life.

I pay respect to that but I also pay respect to the nuances, the depth of feeling and connection, and the drama theatergoers want to see. I was on soap operas for years, and things happen instantly and go as deep as we can emotionally and intellectually, then we regroup.  Because it's so quick, it's heightened emotion, and you've got to at least try to sell it in some sort of believable fashion.”

Interview: Ruben Santiago-Hudson on bringing DESTINY OF DESIRE to life on stage at The Old Globe

This type of performance is deceptively difficult and requires a cast that can go from the incredible depth of emotion to playing the humor of the insane situation with a straight face. Ruben says that he got the finest actors he could to help ground these heightened moments in reality.

“That this baby got switched with this other baby in a hospital and a stormy night and they grew up and got to know each other and switch places into that. That's crazy.

But look at the world we live in and how crazy this is; there are a lot of things that you’d think would never happen but they happen.  So why couldn’t that happen onstage?

The comedy comes from the real investment in the audacity of the things that happen in the world and relationships.”

Interview: Ruben Santiago-Hudson on bringing DESTINY OF DESIRE to life on stage at The Old Globe

When it comes to casting, Santiago-Hudson is very involved and was looking for some very specific for this play.  The cast includes Julio Agustín, Yesenia Ayala, Carlos Gomez, Mandy Gonzalez, Ariella Kvashny, Tito Livas, Bianca Marroquín, Tara Martinez, James Olivas, Christopher M. Ramirez, Al Rodrigoo, Emilia Suárez, Nancy Ticotin, and Luis Villabon.

“I am casting! You know, I take input from everybody in the room - the composer who needs to know that the people can perform the songs,  the choreographer who needs people who can do the choreography, etc…

I need very smart actors, who have that kind of flexibility in emotion and also I wanted to span the wide realm of Latin cultures.

Because Latin people are all over the world and all over different countries and different places, so I wanted to span that. This cast has people who are Puerto Rican, Mexican, Venezuelan, Colombian, Chilean - people from many different cultures, it was important to me.”

Ruben also says that he makes no decision without his creative team, so it was equally as important that he choose them with care so they can make this vision come fully to life.

“You look backstage and see what I have on my artistic team. Scenic designer Rachel Hauck just got nominated for a Tony for GOOD NIGHT OSCAR. Robert Kaplowitz is a fantastic sound designer. 

Lighting designer Jane Cox is extraordinary, and projection designer Hannah Suyan Kim is so high right now, glad I got her before I couldn't get her. 

Lorna Ventura is an amazing choreographer and Ricky Gonzalez the composer has been on tour with Mark Anthony and J. Lo and writes classical music to hip hop.

James Lantus is my stage manager, who just got done with THE COLLABORATION on Broadway and he was also my first stage manager for my first directorial project.

I brought a team together that I knew was a winner.”

A vision of excellence on stage requires the same vision off stage, and Ruben takes a lot of pride in the cast and creative team for DESTINY OF DESIRE.

“I just want excellent people-  my mission is excellence and they’re all different colors, from all different places.

I take a lot of pride in looking around and seeing it. The buck stops with me, but I make no decision, zero decisions, without information from my team.

People talk about inclusion and diversity, diversity is the way things look, and inclusion is when people have a say.  That’s inclusion and that’s what I practice, it’s not just for looks.”

How To Get Tickets 

DESTINY OF DESIRE is playing at The Old Globe through June 25th.  For ticket and show time information go to

Photo Credit: Jim Cox



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