To help us celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, our friends at the Repertorio Español invited us to their opening show of La canción. Written by Bronx-native Cándido Tirado and directed by Edward Torres, the humorous musical tells the story of an aspiring Latino hip-hop artist in New York City on a quest to find the meaning of a song he remembers hearing in a dream. With a full score by Spanish language hip-hop pioneer, Vico C., and an engaging cast that encourages audience participation, Latin music enthusiasts like me are sure to find the play entretenido.
After the show I caught up with director Edward Torres about what it was like to work on an urban Latino musical set in New York City. Torres grew up in Chicago, so we also chatted a bit about his move to New York, and how I give him credit for putting up with the Chicago winters #quéfrío! Here’s what he had to say.
HipLatina: You spent a lot of time building up your career in Chicago with your past projects. What was it that influenced your move to New York?
Edward Torres: Well, I had been in New York around 2010. I transferred a show from Chicago’s Victory Gardens to Second Stage in New York. I had a really good time and great experience with the show and being here in New York. Then I returned to Chicago with the idea of going back to New York—and everybody was saying that I should go back. But at that time I was also assistant director of a company in Chicago that I had been at for 20 years and I was very involved in running that theater. As I started getting other opportunities outside of Chicago, I was like maybe I should think about this. Then I married my wife and she’s also an actress. She ended up getting cast on Broadway in Matilda…
HL: Oh, well I guess that changes things a bit!
ET: Yeah, it was like the universe was saying you know Eddie, you probably need to be in New York just for a little bit. She came here and I joined her but I’m still between Chicago and New York a lot. I’m trying to settle in and I didn’t really get out to the theater community in New York until last year.
HL: So then the important question… is there one city you like more than the other?
ET: I gotta say I love them both equally. Obviously if I had to tilt the scale I would have to say Chicago because I was raised in Chicago in the theater community there. New York is lovely though and it’s treated me well.
HL: I have a lot of friends in Chicago and love visiting—but only in the summer. I already dread the New York winters so I don’t know if I could go any colder.
ET: Yeah, you kinda have to have a thick skin when it comes to that over there.
HL: What was it like to direct a play set in New York where the city plays such a major role in the story? The set incorporates a lot of multimedia and images to reflect the different New York City neighborhoods in each scene.
ET: For me I love working with projections and my background is in film. I have an MFA in film which I’ve yet to use, but I’ll use it someday. I love playing around with images on stage. Not just the theatricality, but also using images of bodegas, the New York street backdrops, the wall on the grandmother’s home and how that represents the Bronx. I was really intrigued by that. Plus, the way Cándido wrote the play there are so many different locations so as far as transitioning it’s the best way to get from one location to the next. It’s beautiful when everything comes together.
HL: What spiked your interest in La canción in particular?
ET: I think there are several things. One is the play and the story itself. It’s a really lovely beautiful story about a young guy who’s trying to become a hip-hop artist. There’s a big universal story for humanity—sometimes we don’t know what we have and things get lost. The play is about that; it’s spiritual in a sense. Thinking about the Bronx, my parents came through the Bronx when they came to New York and I have vague memories of it. Cándido has lived in the Bronx, so it was a really intriguing story to me. Musically, it’s very urban and Latin. The composer Vico C. is known as the Godfather of Spanish hip-hop and reggaetón. It was really cool to be able to take a project where the music inspired the idea for the play. And this was commissioned over three years ago before Hamilton ever hit the scene. Working with Vico and Cándido and bringing all those elements together was the main draw.
HL: Have you directed a musical before?
ET: I’ve directed plays with music before but not a musical like this, which I liked.
HL: It’s interesting that you mentioned Hamilton—I think that La canción has a similar feel as far as how music is incorporated into the play. There isn’t the same theatrical feel of most musicals, so you end up with a mixed audience of diehard musical fans and others who haven’t seen as many. Is that what you were hoping for?
ET: Yeah, it’s not your typical musical, but I think the story interests everyone in a universal way. And it’s funny because it’s in Spanish with English mixed in. So if I can paint a picture that says 1000 words and leave you with some music that also backs that picture up, that’s one of the hardest things about a piece like this. But once you nail it, it’s really lovely to be a part of it.
HL: The music in the play seems to serve a variety of purposes—it’s at the center of the plot in that Rafa is searching for the origin of the title song. Then there are other songs that highlight the relationships among the characters in the play. And others are even comical—Star’s performances poke fun at the sometimes hyper-sexualized lyrics of today’s popular reggaetón songs. What was it like to try to balance such different songs when they’re serving different purposes in conveying the various messages in the story?
ET: I’m glad you caught that! I think that it’s really the collaborative effort put in by me, Cándido, and Vico. Vico writes in a very theatrical tone, so his songs have a lot of storytelling behind them already. Whether the songs are based more on reggaetón, or salsa, or cumbia, they’re very good at telling the story. So it was really easy to give Vico a point by point overview of the story. The scenes were all laid out and he thought a lot about it. I spent a lot of time in the studio with Vico and a lot of time on the phone with Cándido connecting those thoughts together. The result of that is the music that you’re hearing, which I think is mind-blowing.
HL: Like you said, in the play we hear all different genres of Latin American and Caribbean music—cumbia, bachata, and other styles from South America. Considering that Vico C. is considered the Godfather of Spanish hip-hop, how do you manage to maintain the urban feel of the play with these genres that aren’t as typically urban?
ET: It was meant to be that way. Cándido Tirado is from the Bronx and he’s lived that. That’s a big part of his life and I think you see that with how well he manages to keep the urban feel. The rehearsal process was tough putting it all together with the choreography, but I think in the end it comes together really well.
HL: What’s coming up next for you?
ET: I have workshops that are happening at Second Stage Theater. I’m also involved in Play on! for the Oregon Shakespeare festival where they translate Shakespearean plays and make them more accessible in terms of the language. This play is taking up a lot of my time so I need to get back out there and pound the pavement. I’m looking forward to directing in New York.
Check out Repertorio Español’s website for upcoming performances of La canción. The play is performed in Spanish with English subtitles via Simultext® In-Seat Captioning System.