¡Azucar! “Celia: A Musical Journey” to open off-Broadway


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?

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