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Musical on Cruz control
NUNN ON ONE: THEATER
by Jerry Nunn
2010-03-10

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Celia Cruz the Musical is salsa-ing into Chicago this March. The story is based on the life of the legendary Cuban singer. Windy City Times spoke hermana a hermana to Anissa Gathers, the actress playing the lead: "Azucar!"

Windy City Times: Hola, Anissa. What is your nationality?

Anissa Gathers: I was born in New York, raised in Puerto Rico and my mother is Dominican.

WCT: What is your theater and singing background?

Anissa Gathers: I did musical theater with a south side company back in New York. It was called Mestizo.

WCT: You were a salsa dancer before the role, correct?

Anissa Gathers: I used to be, I am too old now. [ Laughs ]

WCT: How did you become involved in the show?

Anissa Gathers: I was in Mestizo and one of my co-workers told me about auditions for Celia Cruz the Musical. I told him that I don't do auditions and don't like to be rejected. He called some people that he knew that were involved with the project and they contacted me. So I went in for a casting and it went great. I got the part of an understudy and was cast originally to play Celia Cruz's mom.

WCT: I just ran into my gay Cuban friend last night. The story of not being able to return to your country is so important for people.

Anissa Gathers: When you see the show you will see a lot of that going on. It is very emotional for people. You don't have to be Cuban to feel the pain of not being able to go back to your home. We all have reasons sometimes of why that cannot be done. Whether you are Cuban or not, you can relate to the story.

WCT: Do you have a favorite moment from the show?

Anissa Gathers: Yes, I have a lot of moments that I love. I like the moment when they tell her that her mother dies, it is a very deep moment. It is beautiful the way that it is done. There is another actress that plays Celia as the woman and I do more of the singing parts.

I also like the part of Tumbao and the crowd loves it too with the orange wig.

WCT: That song, "La Negra Tiene Tumbao," has to be a real crowd-pleaser.

Anissa Gathers: I love the people's reaction to it.

WCT: [ Cruz ] had a huge gay following. I know a drag queen who only goes by the name Celia and performs her music.

Anissa Gathers: We know a few of those! They come dressed to the show in the past. So tell your friend to come dressed up.

WCT: I will. How do you prepare for such a role?

Anissa Gathers: When we take breaks from the tour then we have to work to get back into the character. I think that is the hardest thing. When I prepared for the New York performances, it was a lot of work. I have had some time since I was in the project from day one. This gave me time to grow and prepare myself.

WCT: I heard she became famous for using the expression "azucar" from yelling at a waiter.

Anissa Gathers: Yes, she asked for coffee in a restaurant and the waiter asked if she wanted sugar. She said, "Of course I want sugar; I don't drink coffee without azucar!" That's where everything came from.

WCT: She was originally a teacher, correct?

Anissa Gathers: Yes.

WCT: Pedro Knight was a big influence on her life.

Anissa Gathers: He was everything. She went for an audition in his group and was accepted as a replacement for a singer that was going back to Puerto Rico. They fell in love. He gave up his career for her. That was very special. I want to find a man to do that. I am hoping my boyfriend Humberto will do that for me!

WCT: Many people may not know she did a musical herself called Hommy. Have you seen other Latino musicals such as In the Heights?

Anissa Gathers: Yes, and we are better.

WCT: Anything else you want to say about this show?

Anissa Gathers: People should not miss it. We worked hard to bring it to Chicago. We want people to see this beautiful piece.

WCT: I met Celia before she died so this show is close to my heart. I look forward to seeing it!

Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz dances into the Athenaem Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, with performances in Spanish March 18-19 at 7:30 p.m.; March 20 5 and 9 p.m.; and bilingual performances March 21 at 3 and 7 p.m. For more information call 312-492-6424 or e-mail celiathemusical2010@cmnevents.com .


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