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Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet!

Mauricio Martinez may not be a major name in entertainment to some, but to others the Mexican actor and recording artist is muy caliente.

He is now touring in the musical On Your Feet! playing Emilio Estefan, husband of Gloria Estefan, in the dance-happy show based on their marriage and musical partnership. The musical runs at The Bushnell in Hartford June 19-24.

It’s a good time to be a Mexican artist performing in the U.S., says Martinez, who has recorded two pop music albums and is currently starring in NBC Universo’s original series El Vato (available on Netflix), Señora Acero 2 for Telemundo and several telenovelas for Univision.

“I remember years ago when I went to New York to study there were hardly any Latinos on Broadway, especially Mexican,” Martinez says. “Fast-forward to now and there are musical stories about us. People like Lin-Manuel Miranda definitely have changed the way shows are cast, too. Look at Hamilton, In the Heights and On Your Feet! which is the first Broadway musical to have 99 percent of the cast Latino. That’s a huge thing. Only one person in the cast during the run was non-Latino. That’s what Emilio and Gloria — who are the face of crossover Latin-American artists — wanted.”

As a Mexican, Martinez says he was especially thrilled about this year’s Oscars telecast with many Latino winners, nominees and performers involved in high-profile films such as The Shape of Water and Coco. “It was the most Mexican Oscar ceremony ever. So yes, it’s a beautiful time to be a Latin and to remind everyone that we are proud of who we are, of being an immigrant and living in this country. That’s why I relate to Estefan’s story in On Your Feet! It really hits home. I’m an immigrant from another country currently on a work visa and applying for my green card. I am living in the United States living my dream and starring in a Broadway musical. It’s a beautiful feeling.”

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Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in Boston during the pre-Broadway tryout for Allegro in October 1947.

Getting To Know Them

The musical team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had a special connection with Connecticut. During his life, Rodgers lived in three homes in Fairfield where he did a major part of his composing. And New Haven’s Shubert Theatre was where many R & H musicals premiered en route to Broadway, including their first collaboration, Oklahoma! (That landmark show was originally titled Away We Go! when it played the Elm City in 1943.)

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“It was the first stop for many shows and, of course, it was the out-of-town theater that was closest to New York and therefore the easiest to get to,” says Todd S. Purdum, whose new biography of R & H’s musical partnership, Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution, has just been published. “They must have felt that it was well worth the cost of these often very short runs in New Haven — sometimes they were there just for a few days — before they went on for longer runs in Boston.”

The new book, published by Henry Holt, is filled with fascinating details, including the little-known fact that Shirley Temple, Groucho Marx and Mary Martin were all mentioned for Oklahoma! before the decision was made to cast largely unknowns. (The New Haven Register review of the world premiere is also a treat to read.)

Purdum says the most surprising — “and poignant” — thing he discovered in his research was the degree to which each man did not really know the other. “While they had an extremely professional working relationship and were artistically and commercially in sync, I was stunned to learn how little personal emotional connection there was between them. Each went to his grave [Hammerstein in 1961, Rodgers in 1979], not 100 percent sure if the other really liked him.”

The Merchant in Venice

The production of The Merchant of Venice in Venice, Italy, was intended to “exorcise the ghost of Shylock,” says the Yale School of Drama’s Karin Coonrod.

The Many Faces of Shylock

There will be a gathering of Shylocks in New Haven when Compagnia de’ Colombari, an international collective of performing artists led by Karin Coonrod, brings a radical and revealing take on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas June 19-23.

Coonrod, who is also a lecturer at the Yale School of Drama, created the work with her company and others, and it was performed in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, Italy, two years ago. Coonrod says the ghetto was both a thriving hub of Jewish world culture and a once-quarantined island, confined and marginalized by the dominant Venetian culture. Her production attracted Shakespearean scholars and fans from around the world — including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who also presided in a mock appeal of Shylock at a separate event there).

In Coonrod’s staging, Shylock — who is featured in five scenes in the play — will be played by five different actors, including Lynda Gravatt, an African-American actor. (Also featured as Portia will be Linda Powell, who has performed on Connecticut stages over the years.)

The production in Venice was to “exorcise the ghost of Shylock,” Coonrod says, referring to the role that some see as anti-Semitic.

In Coonrod’s version each actor represents a different aspect of the character: as merchant, father, widower, grieving mother, and killer.

The multiple actors play different aspects of Shylock that are both specific and universal, she says.

“It is my feeling that Shylock is extremely human and that his humanity is what is sometimes compromised by looking at him as a kind of comic villain or as tragic hero.”

Have you heard… ?

Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director of Goodspeed Musicals, will receive the prestigious Tom Killen Award at the Connecticut Critics Circle’s 27th annual awards event, honoring outstanding work from Connecticut’s professional theater. This year the show, which is free to the public, will be held at Westport Country Playhouse on June 11 at 7:30 p.m.

… The National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center from June 23 to July 13 features a trio of new musicals: The Family Resemblance, with book, lyrics and music by Masi Asare; Teeth, with book and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson and book and music by Anna K. Jacobs; and Eddie the Marvelous, Who Will Save the World, with book, music and lyrics by Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses. This is Alexander Gemignani’s inaugural season as the conference’s artistic director.


This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. Did you like what you read? You can subscribe here.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.