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Sunday, March 12, 2000

'Selena Forever' performers prepare for opening night

By Ellen Bernstein
Caller-Times

David Adame/Caller-Times
The choral and dance ensemble of ‘Selena Forever’ rehearses ‘Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,’ an original line dance that’s catchy enough to ignite another Macarena-like dance craze.

  SAN ANTONIO - To the bouncy rhythms of “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” performers step lively in a line dance that could one day see Broadway and sweep the country in a Macarena-like dance craze.
   Until that time, it’s practice, practice, practice. Choreographer Kevin Patterson drills this song-and-dance ensemble in the days remaining before a stage musical based on the life of Selena Quintanilla Perez opens in San Antonio.

Interview segments with the cast of
"Selena Forever".
Veronica Vazquez

Leading lady "Selena", from New York, talks about the challenges of the role.
Listen
Liza Ybarra

Liza, playing Selena's older sister "Suzette", from San Antonio, talks about rehearsing in her hometown.
Listen
Denise Stefanie Gonzalez

Playing the young Selena, from Los Angeles, California, talks about balancing school and rehearsals.
Listen
Onanay Ortiz

Singer, dancer and understudy for Selena, Port St. Lucie, Fl., talks about opening night.
Listen
Amanda Avila

Singer, dancer, narrator from San Diego, explains how she got the part.
Listen

   “Selena Forever,” a Broadway-bound musical with a Latin-pop cumbia beat, runs March 21 through March 26 in San Antonio, March 28 through April 2 in Dallas, and April 5 through April 7 at Selena Auditorium in Corpus Christi. A Texas and California tour follows.
   The creators of the $2 million touring musical are aiming for the same broad appeal the Tejano star achieved in life and in death, said New York producer Tom Quinn.
   They are banking on a barrio-to-Broadway phenomena that doesn’t lose touch with its roots, said director Bill Virchis, whose credits include Los Angeles productions of “Zoot Suit” and “Evita.”

Immersion training

   And what better way to immerse the far-flung cast in the culture than to rehearse in Tejano’s front yard?
    That’s the thinking behind the decision to rehearse at Edgewood Academy of Communications and Fine Arts, a performing arts magnet school on the predominately Hispanic west side of San Antonio.
   The Hispanic cast members from Los Angeles, New York and Miami have visited area rodeos and Tejano clubs, where their expert footwork often stops the show.
   It’s a cultural immersion not lost on ensemble singer and dancer Amanda Avila, 18. “It’s cool to come here. We’re in a total Tejano place,” said the San Diego-based actress.
   Liza Ybarra, who plays the part of Selena’s sister, Suzette, is back at school, literally. She attended Edgewood. “I did a lot of theater in high school. … I feel lucky because I know all the teachers. The janitors bring me stuff every day.”
   Performing arts students, dancers and theater majors have gotten to watch rehearsals and learn about real-life productions.
   “It’s exciting. It’s different,” said Andrea Garza, 17, a senior at Edgewood who plans to be a filmmaker. “It gives us an opportunity to learn more about the arts.”
   At dance rehearsal, Patterson, in a soaked shirt, cargo pants and backwards baseball cap, critiques the ensemble. He demands louder vocals and sharper accents on the neck turns and hand gestures.
   “Can you hear me on the bidi’s?” a male dancer shouts to a wave of laughter in the room.
   Hardly any of the dancers have the thin, long-legged, chiseled physique of Broadway chorus dancers.
   Actress Avila credits frijoles and a bit of Latina pride.
   “We’re real Latinas, not like those stick-thin women,” said the shapely dancer of average height and muscular build. “Here, they just tell us to eat healthy and firm up.”
   Avila said she is excited about being a part of the original cast of a Latino-directed, Latino-written and Latino-acted musical.

Sensitivities

Tour Schedule

(dates and venues are subject to change)


March 21-26
Municipal Auditorium
100 Auditorium Circle
San Antonio, Texas 78207
Ticketmaster: (210) 224-9600

March 28-April 2
Music Hall at Fair Park
909 First Ave.
Dallas, Texas 75210
Ticketmaster: (214) 373-8000

April 5-7
Selena Auditorium
Bayfront Plaza Convention Center
1901 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Corpus Christi, Texas 78401
Ticketmaster: (361) 881-8499

April 13-April 16
Don Haskins Center
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, Texas 79968
Ticketmaster: (915) 544-8444

April 18-April 23
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana Ave.
Houston, Texas 77208
615 Louisiana Ave.
Ticketmaster: (713) 629-3700

April 25-April 30
Rosemont Theater
5400 N. River Road
Chicago, Ill.
Ticketmaster: (312) 559-1212

May 2-May 7
Gammage Auditorium
Arizona State University Campus
Phoenix, Ariz. 85287
Ticketmaster: (480) 784-4444

May 9- May 14
Wiltern Theatre
Wilshire at Western
Los Angeles, Calif.
Ticketmaster: (213) 480-3232, (714)-740-2000, (619) 220-8490

June 13-June 18
San Diego Civic Theatre
3rd and B Streets
San Diego, Calif. 92112
Ticketmaster: (619) 570-1100 or (619) 220-TIXS

Other dates to be announced

   Los Angeles-based director Bill Virchis said the Hispanic community is just beginning to identify with ethnic theater.
   “It takes a long time to build an audience, and the menu in that buffet has been limited,” Virchis said. “Now the menu is getting broader and broader, but it will always be important to go directly to the community with theater and advertising.”
   Complying with the wishes of Selena’s family has been a crucial part of the production, Virchis said. The involvement of the singer’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, has been minimal, although he asked for some crucial word changes based on the family’s religious beliefs, Virchis said. Words such as angel and spirit were removed because it conflicts with the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Virchis added.
   Sensitivity to the family is something Daniel Valdez, the seasoned California actor who plays the senior Quintanilla, is all too familiar with. He produced the 1987 film, “La Bamba,” the story of 1950s rocker Richie Valens. The film - which starred Corpus Christi native Lou Diamond Phillips - was co-written and directed by Daniel’s brother, Luis Valdez.
   It took five years to convince the Valens family that the movie should be made, Daniel Valdez said The family of Selena is far more cooperative, he said, but Abraham Quintanilla, a demanding and authoritative parent, “is a difficult role to do. You’re dealing with the father, not the daughter. The highs and lows (of the relationship) are important in terms of how you play the role. You don’t want to push him too far to one extreme because he’s still her father.”

Big emotions

   Back at the rehearsal hall, director Virchis coached the actors on the not-so-subtle points of musical theater acting, where every line seems an expression of untrammeled emotion; and every lyric seems to touch on some aspiration of the soul.
   “Up it, louder, bigger,” he told 11-year-old Denise Stefanie Gonzalez, the young Selena, who was practicing a scene. “This is theater, big emotions.”
   “Selena Forever” is, in classic musical tradition, idealist escapism; in this case, a sentimental and uncomplicated tribute to a rising star whose early death made her a legend.
   Framed by a Tejano concert, the story is told in flashback sequences, with lots of songs. Thirty in all, including 14 solos sung by leading lady Veronica Vazquez during the two-hour show.
   Ten of the musical numbers are songs recorded by Selena. The rest were composed by Cuban-born Fernando Rivas and lyricist/playwright Edward Gallardo, whose family is from Puerto Rico.
   “It’s a stretch, 14 songs. And the opening number is a killer,” said Vazquez, 24, whose interpretation of Selena’s stage personae and R&B singing voice is both honest and sultry. “When we leave rehearsals and feel solid about what we do, it’s great.”
   Vazquez, wearing a warm-up suit that covers a Selena-like body, looks the part in the same way that Jennifer Lopez captured Selena’s voluptuous beauty. But being a carbon copy of Selena is not what this is all about, she said.
   “It’s not about becoming Selena,” said Vazquez, a Puerto Rican singer who grew up in New York. “It’s trying to make sure that the story comes across. But it’s very important for me to get as close as I can to being her. Everybody misses her. So it’s good if we can give the fans a good dose of her.”




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