Alfonso Menéndez’s Back to Musicals keeps singing despite the occasional rain 
 by Victoria Alcalá
 
 
Among the many sculptures and commemorative plaques we come across in Old Havana, Alfonso Menéndez Balsa well deserves to have one. Ever since he made his professional debut back in 1984, he has defended musical theater in the most important venues in Havana—Mella, Gran Teatro de La Habana, Nacional and America Theaters; in Spain at the Centro de la Villa de Madrid; and in Venezuela at the Teresa Carreño Theatre. And to prove himself, he took a leap and directed a memorable Rigoletto at the Bellas Artes Theater in Mexico City and the Degollados Theater in Guadalajara.

Photos by Yadira Montero, © All rights reserved.
 
 

Someone could argue that musicals are a thing of the past or that Menéndez undertook the great operettas and zarzuelas at an auspicious hour in the Cuban stage, but his work at the Amphitheater of the Historic Center from 1997 to date dispels any possible doubts: Yo mismo te doy la A (authored by Menéndez) and The Best in Spanish Musicals (1998), Las Leandras and Something Else (1999), Cecilia Valdés (2000), The Phantom of the Opera (premiere in Cuba, 2006), The Merry Widow (2007), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (premiere in Cuba, 2008), Beauty and the Beast (premiere in Cuba, 2009), Around Musicals (2010), Cats (premiere in Cuba, 2011), The Lion King (premiere in Cuba, 2012) and Back to Musicals (2013). Alfonso Menéndez has made the Amphitheater the principal stronghold of the musical theater in Havana, despite obstacles that may seem insurmountable, like the huge open-air stage, exposed to the inclemency of the weather, and devoid, for this very reason, of any piece of stage machinery, and even the very young and inexperienced casts Menéndez works with given that other experienced figures cannot commit themselves to long seasons.

Those of us who have followed Alfonso Menéndez work in recent years have seen how he has molded his youthful actors, some of whom get up on a stage for the first time without any prior notion of the art of drama or dancing techniques. Menendez also deserves praise for taking under his wing young people who are dropouts or come from dysfunctional families and turning them into an organized company who rehearse night after night for months, undeterred by heat waves or cold fronts. Beyond the artistic result of their efforts, one is moved by the spiritual transformation of his troupe, who the feeling of belonging to the Amphitheater of the Historic Center has given meaning to their lives.

Although Menéndez claims to know nothing about the subject, it is rumored that he will be entrusted with the management of the Martí Theater, whose reopening is announced for December after long years of capital repairs that will give back the theater the splendor of its belle époque. Should this be the case, then Back to Musicals would be his farewell to the Amphitheater, and he does so in style.
For around an hour, the young performers led by Menéndez—who is also in charge of the stage design, the script, the Spanish version, the choreography and lighting—sing and dance great moments of film and theater musicals: “Masquerade” (The Phantom of the Opera); “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz); “Septimino” (The Merry Widow); “When You’re Good to Mama,” “We Both Reached for the Gun,” “All that Jazz” (Chicago); “Two Ladies” and “Maybe this Time” (Cabaret); “Yo me acaricio” (Cantando desnudos), “Singing in the Rain” (Singing in the Rain), “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?” (Les Miserables), “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Evita), “New York, New York” (New York, New York), “I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady), “Memory” (Cats), “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Moulin Rouge!), “One” (A Chorus Line) and “Mamma mia” (Mamma mia!). At first, this mixture of eras, authors and styles could seem a tour de force, yet the production flows smoothly thanks to the talent of Menéndez who knows how to harmoniously structure diversity and articulate the songs with each other through stage resources that practically go unnoticed.

Back to Musicals ensures the audiences that usually fill the Amphitheatre an hour of enjoyment in a show that ratifies that what appeals to the general public has nothing to do with vulgarity, that good taste and elegance are not exclusive to “high culture” on behalf of which not few works of poor quality have unfortunately made their way to film and theater.
De vuelta al musical [Back to Musicals]
Anfiteatro del Centro Histórico
Throughout October, Sat & Sun, 9pm


Alfonso Menéndez’s revitalized troupe returns to the stage of Havana’s Amphitheatre in the Historic Center for a medley of famous songs from musical theater and films. Beautiful and suggestive music, excellent performances by young actors and singers, and splendid costumes enhance this production that includes selections from well-known musicals, such as “Masquerade” (The Phantom of the Opera); “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz); “Septimino” (The Merry Widow); “When You’re Good to Mama”, “We Both Reached for the Gun”, “All that Jazz” (Chicago); “Two Ladies” and “Maybe this Time” (Cabaret); “Yo me acaricio” (Cantando desnudos), “Singing in the Rain” (Singing in the Rain), “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” (Les Miserables), “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Evita), “New York, New York” (New York, New York), “I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady), “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Moulin Rouge!), “One” (A Chorus Line) and “Mamma mia” (Mamma mia!).
Alfonso Menéndez’s Back to Musicals keeps singing despite the occasional rain
November 2013
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