THEATER: Musical put on the way to Broadway ‘ | Living

“Kiss my Aztec!” to open at Hartford Stage while looking to the future

HARTFORD — Tony and Emmy-winning actor/playwright John Leguizamo will return to Hartford Stage with a new East Coast-debuting musical, “Kiss My Aztec!” Previews begin Wednesday, June 1.

The play begins on June 10 and runs until June 26.

“It’s about the birth of the Latin man, because the conquest was the birth of the Latin man, the mixed races of what we Latins are,” Leguizamo said in a recent interview.

Based on a screenplay by Leguizamo and Stephen Chbosky, “Kiss My Aztec!” follows a handful of rebels who continue to fight against Spain during their conquest of the Aztecs in the 16th century and their hope of reversing the conquest.

It was over 10 years ago when Leguizamo was last at Hartford Stage, performing “Ghetto Klown.”

However, he will not be seen on stage. Leguizamo co-wrote the book with director Tony Taccone and co-wrote the lyrics with David Kamp and Benjarmin Velez. Velez also wrote the music.

Leguizamo said he started working on “Kiss My Aztec!” about seven years ago.

“I did it as a movie, but it’s so hard to sell Latin content,” he said. “The theater has always been a more convivial and less exclusive place.”

Leguizamo managed to parlay the friendlier theatrical environment with four solo shows that went to Broadway, most recently “Latin History for Morons” which ran from November 2017 to February 2018. He also starred in a production from 2008 of “American Buffalo” by David Mamet. .”

“I’ve always been able to do my shows on Broadway,” he said. “Artists have always done their projects intact.”

He said he wanted people to laugh and think about the ramifications of what the Spanish conquistadors did to destroy Aztec civilization.

“The message is that we are better together,” he said. “We are stronger together. The Conquest was a dark and horrific time in Latin history, but we survived it and that’s the beauty of it. We are the only people whose religion, culture and language have been completely destroyed and we are still here.

After doing readings at the Public and Atlantic Theaters in New York, Leguizamo said, “Kiss My Aztec!” had its first staging at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California, receiving excellent reviews.

For its East Coast premiere, it chose Hartford Stage because of how well local Latin audiences have been received in past productions it has participated in.

Additionally, like recent musicals such as “Anastasia” and the Tony Award-winning “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” he said he hoped for “Kiss My Aztec!” will jump on Broadway.

“Hartford (Stage) is one of the most important theaters in New England to go to Broadway,” he said.

“They’re going to love this show,” he said of the Hartford stage audience. “Music is deadly. Valez did a great job.

Leguizamo called director Taccone a “masterful storyteller” with “incredible directing gifts”.

Valez’s score for “Kiss My Aztec!” is an eclectic mix of Latin music like salsa and merengue mixed with gospel, hip-hop, funk and rock, Leguizamo said.

“That’s what you would hear at one of my house parties,” he said. “It’s all in the Latin lexicon of music. We have so many different styles.

The musical styles represent the different cultures presented, he said, with the Spanish being mainly flamenco and paso doble music and the rebels being beatbox hip-hop and reggaeton.

The characters are also depicted in their language, he said, with the Spaniards speaking reinforced Elizabethan English while the Atzecs speak a street slang-style Elizabethan patois.

The two central characters in the story are Pepe, played by Joel Perez, and Colombina, played by Krystina Alabado.

“Pepe is the clown of the rebels, the entertainer,” Leguizamo said. “They think his profession is not useful for change. Colombina, is the daughter of the black jaguar and wants to be a rebel and fight, while her father wants her to do feminine things. The two grow together. Pepe is an orphan and Colombina lost her mother to the conquest.

The two embark on a quest for revenge to bring down the Spanish viceroy’s fort in order to return the land to the Aztecs.

“Actors, I’ve been working with them in workshops for seven years,” Leguizamo said. “The breadth and depth of Latin talent is incredible.

“I think the music is so innovative and so beautifully executed,” he said. “People will laugh. They will be moved. We have to laugh and we have to heal and understand that we have to compromise and work with each other.

Melia Bensussen, artistic director of Hartford Stage, said “Kiss My Aztec!” is his favorite kind of show.

“It’s so funny,” she said. “It’s so much fun. This is a substantial part of the story, the conquest of Latin America. John is so smart and has such a knack for blending high and low brows. It takes real information, but conveys it with such artistry and wit. I’m so thrilled that we’re finishing the season with this.

She said “Kiss my Aztec!” couldn’t suit Hartford Stage and the local community better.

“It literally sings for our audience and it’s a pre-Broadway experience,” she said, emphasizing the production’s ambition to open on Broadway. “It’s a show that will speak to our city, our region and our audience that we hope to cultivate further.”

It’s joyful, wacky, and it takes serious story elements and spins them around for our enjoyment.