Broadway without Borders

Luisa Cortes and cast of The Paparazzi
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The New York to Guadalajara connection

The city of Guadalajara, Mexico is home to many things. For starters, more than one and a half million people live there, with another five million in its metropolitan area. It is a vibrant, colorful, fascinating city known for its food, its culture, its history, its architecture and, at least for the past nine years, its connection to New York theater.

The New York/Mexican casts of “The Paparazzi”, 2019
(T. Sportiello)

The partnership began, as many successful partnerships do, by a quirky twist of fate. In 2010 legendary Mexican director Mauricio Cedeno was visiting New York City doing research for a production he was going to do centered on Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Mauricio Cedeno
(Hector Montes de Oca)

Playing at the same time was an original Off Broadway musical dealing, coincidentally enough, with the subject of group therapy, written by Al Tapper. It was entitled ‘Sessions’ and its home was the Algonquin theater on 24th Street.

Sessions, New York
David Patrick Ford and Kelli Maguire (Tony Sportiello)

Cedeno thought it would be amusing to see a different take on the subject and bought a ticket. He found the show to be delightful and thought it would work well in his home town of Guadalajara. I know all this because I happened to be producing ‘Sessions’ at the time, along with Jason Hewitt, and arrangements were soon made for the rights to produce the show in Mexico.

Al Tapper and Mauricio Cedeno, New York. 2011.
(T. Sportiello)

Jason and I, along with bookwriter/composer/lyricist Al Tapper, hopped on a private jet and attended the press opening for ‘Sessions’ in Guadalajara.

Writer, composer and lyricist Al Tapper and Producer Jason Hewitt
(T. Sportiello)

Two interesting side notes. Most commercial airplanes fly at a height of about 38,000 square feet. A private jet flies much higher, around 52,000 square feet, where there is far less air traffic. It takes about seven hours to get to Guadalajara on a commercial airplane and a little more than four hours on a jet. Also, if you’re flying overseas they recommend you get to the airport two hours before your flight leaves. If you ask what time you need to be there for a private flight they ask ‘What time can you get here?’ This really has nothing to do with the main story, but I thought it was fascinating.

(T. Sportiello)

The press for ‘Sessions’ was impressive, to say the least. Dozens of television, radio and print journalists showed up and asked questions about how it felt to be in Mexico, what did we think the challenges would be, how does the culture differ from that in the states, etc. Besides being a songwriter Al Tapper is best known for producing the hit documentaries ‘Broadway: The Golden Age,’ ‘Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy’ and ‘Ted Williams The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived’ so he was a bit more used to the nonstop questions and photos from the paparazzi but I found it both thrilling and exhausting. Fortunately for me, Jason Hewitt spoke Spanish like a native and so he handled the bulk of the questions about producing. Had he not been there. however, we’d still have been fine. The United States seems to be the only civilized country in the world which refuses to learn a second language. Most everyone there spoke English.

Tony Sportiello, Mauricio Cedeno, Al Tapper, Jason Hewitt
(T. Sportiello)
Sessions, Mexico
(T. Sportiello)

The city of Guadalajara is enchanting. It is magical. It has a deep history dating back to the 1500s. It is filled with incredible architecture and art…

(T. Sportiello)

It is filled with incredible food….

(T. Sportiello)

It has some of the world’s most beautiful women and handsome men….

Mafer Santes
(Juan Pablo Sehagun)
Sandra Geneviere
(Fernanda Valenzuela)
Gibran Macias
Franz Bomthanley
(Gerardo Rodriguez)

The people in Guadalajara are warm, they are funny, they are spiritual. They are hard working but more than money they value family and loyalty.

Tony Sportiello, Kelli Maguire, AJ Sportiello with Mauricio Cedeno and cast and crew of ‘National Pastime’.

And my God, does that city have talent. Actors, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, scenic designers, costume designers, lighting designers, props, stagehands….The production of ‘Sessions’ in Mexico did better than we could have dared hope, winning the award for Best Production.

The cast and crew of Sessions, Mexico
(Antonieta Rojas)

So thrilled were we by the success of ‘Sessions’ that we eagerly launched into our next show there, a screwball musical comedy entitled ‘National Pastime’.

Enrique Valdes, Vanessa Arroyo, Franz Bomthanley
‘National Pastime’
(Antonieta Rojas)
Joaq Romero, Giselle Restelli
(Antonieta Rojas)

‘National Pastime’ had already played in the United States, in cities such as New York, Washington, Auston, Phoenix, Wilkes-Barre and Bucks County Playhouse. It seemed an odd choice for the Mexican audience to embrace given that the plot involved baseball, the Great Depression and Iowa. (I should know, I wrote the book for this one. Al Tapper was once again the music man). To our delight it did even better than ‘Sessions’, winning awards for Best Production, Best Director (Cedeno), Best Costumes, Best Set Designs, Best Publicity Designs and Best Actress.

Giselle Restelli, ‘Best Actress’

As satisfying as it was to have a successful production in another country, I think it was the collaboration between those of us in New York and those in Guadalajara which was the most important and memorable aspect of the venture. We were not Americans and they were not Mexicans. There were no borders, no walls. We were all artists. Our one thought was on the overall production and how to make it better for the audience.

After ‘National Pastime’ came our most ambitious project. Up to now we had developed our shows in the United States and Mauricio and his people performed them in Guadalajara. The show we were working on now had no prior production history, only a few readings. It was called ‘The Paparazzi’ and dealt with the men and women who take celebrity pictures for a living.

Ken Jennings leads the reading for ‘The Paparazzi’, New York. 2017.
(T. Sportiello)

Mauricio decided they wanted to do the world premiere of the show in Mexico. Once again I wrote the book, Al Tapper wrote the songs, David Wolfson did the arrangements but this time rehearsals for performances were done two thousand miles away in Guadalajara.

Paparazzi rehearsals
(Avion de papel)

Working with a cast and crew that far away is challenging, but thanks to the internet and Facebook, we were actually able to check in on the Mexican cast of ‘The Paparazzi’ with relative ease. What we saw was thrilling. Mauricio’s ideas were bold and innovative. The cast was top notch.

Luisa Cortes
(Jaime Martin)

Vanessa Arroyo
(Antonieta Rojas)
The Paparazzi
(Antonieta Rojas)

In October of 2018 ‘The Paparazzi’ opened in Guadalajara to a full and appreciative house. It was set in New York but the ideas are universal. Invasion of privacy, speed versus accuracy, an industry which neither knows or cares for the people they hurt.

The cast of ‘The Paparazzi’
(M. Cedeno)

At this point we decided to up the ante. There had been three productions in Mexico, a boatload of awards, great reviews, etc. It was time to bring the actors of Mexico here to New York.

Joaq Romero
Vanessa Arroyo
Mauricio Cedeno, Sandra Geneviere, Gibran Macias, Vanessa Arroyo,
Ana Lylia Olea, Joaq Romero, Giselle Restelli, Victor Aceves

In February of 2019 we flew the actors from Guadalajara to Manhattan. We decided to do something totally new, totally different and unique and special, in honor of the special bond we had formed. We would present a shortened version of ‘The Paparazzi’ for a select audience, with the script and songs being done half in English and half in Spanish.

(T. Sportiello)

The actors from Mexico worked with their counterparts from New York, transferring fluidly from one language to another. Our reason for doing this was not just because we were fond of the artists from Guadalajara (although by this time we had come to regard several of them as family) but because our goal is to produce two productions of ‘The Paparazzi’ here in Manhattan. One in English and one for the approximately two million New Yorkers who speak Spanish. As we work towards that, however, we are grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to work with, to learn from, to enjoy the company of these extraordinary artists. Our friends. Our colleagues. Our amigos.


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