Mexico tunes in more local color

'Selena,' 'Hoy' bow wouth of the border

MEXICO CITY — If you went to the theater last weekend in Mexico City, you might have thought you were stuck in the ’80s.

While Abba tribute “Mamma Mia!” played at the National Auditorium, two local productions based on Spanish-language pop stars of the same decade had just bowed.

“Selena: The Musical,” based on the life and music of the late Mexican-American singer, bowed May 17, and “Hoy no me puede levanter” (Today I Couldn’t Get Up), a more conceptual revival of the tunes of Spanish rock band Mecano, opened May 24.

Both are productions by Mexico-based Corporacion Interamericano de Entretenemiento (CIE), the largest live-entertainment company in Latin America, with 8.7 billion pesos ($772 million) in revenue last year. CIE produces more than 500 concerts a year in the region as well as operating betting parlors and Ticketmaster.

CIE has spent the last decade building up its capacity as a producer of Broadway and West End musicals for Latino auds in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Spain.

Now the company is producing its own homegrown, locally inspired musicals, which it aims to tour in the U.S. and Latin America.

Both “Selena” and the Mexican version of “Hoy” — first mounted in Spain — are produced by Federico Gonzalez Compean, corporate director of CIE’s international division.

Gonzalez Compean was inspired by “Mamma Mia!” to produce a Mexican musical along the same lines.

“Many people in Mexico aren’t interested in musicals because the music isn’t theirs,” Gonzalez Compean says. “We want to recreate this genre with Mexican popular music.”

That idea resulted in “Besame Mucho,” a $1.3 million production based on Mexican bolero tunes that has been running for a year at Mexico City’s Telmex Theater, clocking 400 perfs and 400,000 spectators, according to Gonzalez Compean.

“Selena” is CIE’s second original production, produced for $900,000 at the newly refurbished Teatro Blanquito;the tuner presents the arc of the singer’s career and tragic death.

Selena — born Selena Quintanilla — began performing as a child in a band at her father’s restaurant in Texas. The restaurant went bust, but the family succeeded in making a business out of Selena. She released her first disc at age 12, rose to become the “queen of Tejano music,” and was killed by the president of her fan club in 1995 at age 23.

Her death transformed her into a legendary figure — and an even bigger business. Her enduring appeal was demonstrated by the star-studded “Selena Vive!” concert in Houston last year that became one of the highest-rated Spanish-language TV specials ever.

“Selena wasn’t even popular in Mexico before her death,” said Genevieve Petitpierre, the show’s director of production. “Now her music is a mainstay at weddings everywhere in Mexico.”

Selena is portrayed in the musical by Lidia Avila, who sang in teen pop groups La Onda Vaselina and OV7.

“Hoy no me puede levantar,” also backed by Spanish producers Jose Manuel Lorenzo and Angel Suarez, has a larger cast and a budget of around $6 million.

The show has had an ongoing sold-out run in Madrid, breaking box office records with more than 370 perfs and 375,000 spectators.

“Hoy” is a fantasy on the ’80s, drug addiction, love and death, set to the tunes of Mecano. The group was formed by Nacho Cano, his brother Jose Maria Cano and Ana Torroja, but broke up 13 years ago.

Nacho Cano directed the musical, which showcases 40 actors in high-powered dance ensembles and is based on a script by David Serrano, who wrote hit Spanish film “El otro lado de la cama” (The Other Side of the Bed).

CIE now is negotiating U.S. tours of its original productions. Gonzalez Compean wants to take “Besame” to Miami and possibly Spain and mount “Selena” on a tour of the U.S. border zone.

CIE also is developing a musical on teen pop band Timbiriche, the group that launched Mexican divas Thalia and Paulina Rubio, and is currently negotiating the rights for a Spanish adaptation of “Mamma Mia!” both due in 2008.

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