The Ambitious Cuban-Themed Musical a Portland Company Hopes to Take to Broadway

A group of Cuban American talent—a musician, a producer, a director, a writer, a choreographer, and an actor—brings the story of Jorge Gómez to the Portland stage.

By Fiona McCann September 21, 2015 Published in the October 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Portland seems an unlikely stage for the world premiere of a gala bilingual musical created by an all-star Cuban American team. But with Cuba Libre, Artists Rep sets its sights (and a $600,000 budget, seven times more than any of the company’s other shows this season) on Broadway and national acclaim. Meet the crack team behind this ambitious undertaking, a Portland show with  Pan-American aspirations.

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Image: Elvis Suarez

The Musician

Jorge Gómez was born in Havana and studied at Escuelas Nacionales de Arte, Cuba’s music conservatory. He came to the US in 2000 and founded Tiempo Libre, this country’s first all-Cuban timba (fast-paced, syncopated Afro-Cuban dance music) band, in 2001. Tiempo Libre has three Grammy-nominated albums under its belt, and plays live onstage throughout the show. Cuba Libre is his story.

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Image: Susan Dietz

The Producer

Susan Dietz, longtime theater producer and a five-time Tony nominee, lists Pulitzer Prize–nominated Topdog/Underdog and 2009 critical and commercial Broadway hit Fela! on her extensive résumé. She decided Gómez’s immigrant story had the makings of a major musical production after a 2009 meeting with Elizabeth Sobol, the musician’s wife and Tiempo Libre’s manager.

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Image: Shawn Lee

The Director

Artists Rep Artistic Director Dámaso Rodriguez is a Cuban American from Florida who took over creative leadership of the Portland ensemble in 2013. That same year, Dietz made contact and let him in on her passion project upon discovering his Cuban heritage. Despite the absence at that point of a working script—or even an outline—Rodriguez immediately signed on.

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The Writer

Rodriguez turned to Carlos Lacámara, who left Cuba when he was 2 years old and went on to a career as a television actor (with appearances on Family Ties, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Desperate Housewives among other shows). Lacámara has written a number of acclaimed plays, including a Cuban-themed trilogy that concluded with the Artists Rep premiere of Exiles last season.

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Image: Bob Krasner

The Choreographer

Harlem-based Cuban American director and choreographer Maija Garcia has had a high-profile career with projects that range from the Broadway hit Fela! to Spike Lee’s upcoming film Chiraq. She’s also choreographed special features on The Colbert Report, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and The View. She met Dietz at Fela!’s Broadway opening, and joined the Cuba Libre project in spring 2014.

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Image: Janet Dacal

The Actor

Cuban American actor, singer, and performer Janet Dacal is best known for her Drama Desk Award–winning performance in the Broadway musical In the Heights, a show that also bagged four Tony Awards, and a Grammy for the resulting album. She auditioned for Cuba Libre in Los Angeles in June 2015 and became an official cast member in August, playing Gómez’s girlfriend while he’s in Cuba.

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