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A Spanish 'Rent' Marks Return Of Broadway Musicals To Havana

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Broadway is coming to Cuba for a three-month run starting this month. The Spanish-language production of "Rent" will be the first to full Broadway musical to be performed in Cuba in more than 50 years. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "525,600 MINUTES")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) 525,600 minutes. (Singing in Spanish).

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Fifteen young Cuban actors in Havana have been have been rehearsing their roles for the musical "Rent." That might not seem like a big deal, but consider this - U.S. produced musicals were banned in Cuba after the revolution in 1959. "Rent," the Tony award-winning musical by Jonathan Larson, is about struggling artists in New York City. It might seem like an unusual choice to break into the Cuban theater scene, but Bob Nederlander doesn't think so.

BOB NEDERLANDER: It's a universal story which transcends particular nationalities - a story of love, friendship, struggling and succeeding over adversity.

GARSD: Nederlander is CEO of the Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment group. A couple of years ago, they produced a concert of Broadway tunes in Cuba. It was such a success that the Cuban Culture Ministry invited them back to stage a full musical. The director is Andy Senor, Jr., who made his Broadway debut in "Rent" in 1997 playing the role of Angel. Talking by phone from Havana, he says as a Cuban-American this production is close to his heart.

ANDY SENOR JR.: It's phenomenal. I have always wanted to come to Cuba. My parents were born and raised here and I've always wanted to come see all the things they always talked about and connect with my family here and the Cuban people.

GARSD: Senor previously directed a version Tokyo. He says the main challenge in Cuba is reigniting a tradition that was once vibrant.

SENOR: Well, there is no musical theater in Cuba. This is the first musical. They lost the tradition back about 50 years ago, so that's always actually more challenging than the language.

GARSD: Broadway shows were popular in Cuba before the revolution. In the years after, American cultural influences were banned and folk styles were favored over flamboyant performances which were seen as decadent. That's something that might be changing. In June of this year, British director Christopher Renshaw did a workshop production of the play "Carmen Jones." Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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