Thursday, August 9, 2007

Xiomara embodies Celia

(this press note was also published on KillCastro, we are cross posting it on the Black Sheep of Exile to bring it to our readers, since we are experiencing troubles with KillCastro)

NEW YORK (AP) - Playing the Queen of Salsa on stage is a dream come true for Xiomara Laugart, the star of the musical "Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz." But the singer doesn't want to mislead the audience.

"I am not Celia. I don't sing like Celia," said Laugart, a former member of funk band Yerba Buena, who is making her stage debut in the off-Broadway production.

Like Cruz, Laugart, too, is Cuban and a singer. But Cruz "is the Queen of Salsa. I am the queen of my house," Laugart said.

"Imagine! She is the pioneer of the music and the representation of black, Latina and Cuban women. How can you represent that? That's a tremendous challenge, a tremendous responsibility," the exuberant 46-year-old singer told reporters at a Manhattan restaurant, flashing a huge smile.

"People will come to remember Celia. ... What we are doing is recounting her life in the most respectful way."

The musical, opening Sept. 12 at New World Stages, will be directed by Jaime Azpilicueta, who helmed Spanish language productions of "My Fair Lady," "Evita" and "The Way We Were." Modesto Lacen, 30, known for his work in Puerto Rican film, TV and theater, will portray Cruz's husband, Pedro Knight, an accomplished trumpeter who died at age 85 in February.

The book for the show was written by Carmen Rivera and Candido Tirado. The musical director is Isidro Infante, who worked with Cruz and Mambo king Tito Puente.

Through 30 songs once performed by the legendary singer, the musical covers Cruz's birth in Santos Suarez, Cuba, in 1925, to her death in 2003 in New Jersey at age 77.

Cruz studied to be a teacher in her native Havana, but was lured into show business when a relative entered her in a radio talent contest, which she won. She later studied music at the Havana Conservatory and performed at the world-famous Tropicana nightclub.

In the 1950s, Cruz became famous with the legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera. She left Cuba after its 1959 revolution for the United States in 1960, and never went back.

With her powerful voice and flamboyant stage shows, Cruz helped bring salsa music to a broad audience.

Popular with both young and old, Cruz dazzled with her personality and outrageous outfits, including a different wig at each performance. Always flashing a wide smile, she gave an energetic stage show, punctuated by her trademark shout, "Azucar!" - or "Sugar!" - in the middle of a song.

Cruz recorded more than 70 records and had more than a dozen Grammy nominations. She won the award twice, for best salsa album in 2002 and 2003.

Among her biggest hits were "La vida es un carnaval," "Que le den candela" and "Quimbara."

"I go to sleep listening to Celia's songs on my headphones," Laugart recently told The Associated Press. "Before I lay down, I read the script in English and Spanish from top to bottom. I get up in the mornings and do the same, and then go to rehearsal from 10 a.m. until whatever hour."

During rehearsals, Laugart said she feels as if Cruz is with her. "It's a sensation you can only feel if you're there."

A lifelong fan, she met Cruz only once after attending one of Cruz's shows in Italy in the early 1990s.

While waiting in a long line to go backstage, she said Knight noticed her and asked her where she was from. When she responded Cuba, she said Knight brought her in and Cruz greeted her warmly.

Laugart will have makeup artist Ruth Sanchez, who for years worked with the Queen of Salsa and even prepared Cruz for her funeral.

"She tells me all the time how Celia moved when she talked," Laugart said. Sanchez even took her to get long nail extensions such as the ones Cruz wore.

Laugart most admired how Cruz was "always happy - her sincerity, modesty and the way she treated everyone the same way."

"This is a dream come true - to be Celia on Broadway," she said.