Broadway finds a new stage in an old venue: Cuba

Wed Nov 26, 2014 2:03pm EST
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - In Bob Nederlander Jr.'s mission to export Broadway to new markets around the world, he found an old one where the American art form lay dormant for a least 50 years - communist Cuba.

After testing the Cuban appetite with a 2011 concert of Broadway show tunes, Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment decided to stage a three-month run of "Rent," the first Broadway musical exported to Cuba in decades.

"We were all blown away by the reaction," Nederlander said of the 2011 show. "Standing ovations. People cheering, on their feet dancing."

Based on that and interest from Cuba's Culture Ministry, "we then suggested we bring authentic Broadway here to Cuba; that we do it in Spanish with Cuban actors and musicians," Nederlander told Reuters from Havana's 350-seat Bertolt Brecht Theater on the second day of rehearsals.

"Rent" will premiere on Dec. 24, just two months after casting. The Americans will direct and provide set design, sound, lights, choreography and the wardrobe.

Nederlander is part of the third generation of his family business, the entertainment empire behind hits such as "Chicago," "La Cage aux Folles" and "West Side Story."

The Cuban production is a total financial loss meant as a cultural exchange, Nederlander said, declining to reveal any details. Cuba's National Council for Performing Arts is sharing expenses.

Broadway shows were popular in Cuba before the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, but what happened after that is unclear, an official from the National Council for Peforming Arts said. The United States imposed a trade embargo, and Cuba banned some capitalist influences from the Caribbean island.   Continued...

Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment CEO Bob Nederlander Jr. speaks during an interview with Reuters in Havana November 25, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer