There is no way to reference Celia Cruz without superlatives; la Reina de la
Salsa — the Queen of Salsa — was incredibly, indisputably larger than
Now that life, including a fifty-year career that
spanned days of winning cakes in Havana radio contests to days of winning
lifetime achievement awards, is the subject of an off-Broadway
production. Celia: A Musical Journey opens at New World Stages in
New York City on Sept. 12. The show is directed by Jaime Azpilicueta
and stars another Cuban singer, Xiomara Laugart, formerly of New
York–based Latin funk band Yerba Buena.
Laugart is known in Cuba as La Negra, describes Yerba Buena’s music
as “a big carnival,” and paid tribute to la reina in songs like
In this newest tribute, she will likely sing some of Cruz’s megahits — “La
Negra Tiene Tumbao” and “La Vida Es un Carnaval” among
the many — and utter
the legendary cry of “¡azucar!” countless times. Considering Cruz’s penchant for
outrageous dresses and wigs, Laugart is also bound to have quite the dressing room.
Since I was one of the many fans hesitant at the idea of Whoopi
Goldberg portraying Cruz in a Hollywood biopic, why am I so excited (truly,
ridiculously excited) about this off-Broadway production?
I adore Cruz (just to clarify), so I want to see her honored well. A play
will have time to find its feet before making a move to Broadway and then
to Hollywood, rather than starting in the land where money would take precedence
over a genuine desire to honor her life. In 2005, Blogdecine.com even reported that the
Goldberg production didn’t go forward because Cruz was “too
normal” for studio execs (site is in Spanish). Apparently the fact that
she was happily married for decades and didn’t have a closet full of
abused, drug-using skeletons overwhelms her international stardom and her pioneering
role in Afro-Cuban music and culture, but whatever.
I’m thrilled about this particular production because Laugart is a superb singer
in her own right, but she’s
real about it: “What we are doing is recounting her life in the most respectful way,” she says.
“I am not Celia. I don’t sing like Celia.”
When it comes down to it, who does?