By Margot Thomas
TWO CANADIAN expats who converted a community entertainment project into a musical dream come true are playing a key role in helping put Panama on the world stage, figuratively and practically.
Rob Brown and his artist wife Yolanda Van Der Kolk “retired” to Santa Clara Panama, 10 years ago after he stepped aside from his successful marketing company filling seats and subscriptions for cultural projects ranging from museums and art galleries to classical orchestras and ballet.
In Panama, they soon became involved in community projects ranging from a neighborhood hot line to a local ambulance service and the writing and staging of murder mystery dinner theatres in Coronado. He was also a prime mover in the introduction of IFF, Panama’s International Film Festival.
A request from audience members for a play with a musical flavor, stirred up the creative juices and resulted in a four-year research and writing marathon aided by niece Tara Van Der Kolk, co-writer of music and lyrics, that culminated in PANAMA The Musical which this month took its first international bow in London at the West End Stage Festival and is scheduled to stage a world premiere in Panama in February 2018, with sights set on Toronto and London.
Brown sees the Panama production as an annual event, following in the footsteps of the world’s longest-running play, Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap a magnet for visitors to London. He has a promo tag ready: You haven’t seen Panama if you haven’t seen Panama the Musical.
The premiere of the work is scheduled for February 1, at the Ateneo Theater in Ciudad del Saber, under the auspices of the Panama Tourism Authority.
It will be presented in Toronto, with its tradition of long-running musicals in November 2018.
Brown said: “This is the first show that has been developed for the English-speaking market and we want to show the world the talent and skills Panama has to offer.” Auditions start this month.
The production of the musical work is being enabled by double Latin Grammy Award, winner Alberto Gaitán; and renowned international music supervisor David Warrack
Playwright Robert McQueen, who was Associate Director of the musical MAMMA MIA on Broadway, has joined the creative team.
Panamanian impresario Aaron Zebede will direct a cast of Panamanian artists and musicians, to bring script to life, featuring Latino dances, the Charleston and the Foxtrot.
THE PLOT centers around a love story between an American composer in the Canal Zone and a Panamanian musician, in Casco Viejo in 1927.
The composer dreams of listening to her songs “on this new thing called radio.” Forced to leave the Canal Zone when her Cuban contractor father dies leaving the family heavily indebted to the owner of a local brothel, she must make her way in the dangerous streets of Casco Viejo.
She wins a radio contest to record her songs in New York with her Panamanian boyfriend, but the owner of the brothel threatens that if she leaves, she will force her twelve-year-old sister to pay the debt by working at the brothel. Drama, skullduggery love, music and dancing a perfect formula for a musical success.