The Entertainment Scene with Margot Thomas
A NEW MUSICAL set to make its first public performance in Panama on February 1 has already entered the record books with a series of “firsts” and if the dreams of its authors are realized, more records are on the way.
Panama The Musical, the first featuring the country was created by two Canadian expats, Rob Brown and Yolanda Van Der Kolk, who both have Panamanian citizenship had been active in entertaining English speaking audiences in Coronado with dinner theatres.
A request for something with a musical flavor led from drafts for a one night show, to a four-year immersion in the creation of a full-scale production that could take the performance to stages far from its launching pad in the Teatro Ateneo in the City of Knowledge.
Co-writer and producer Brown has used his promotional talents honed as the creator of the Arts Marketing Company in Canada and the US to line up a team of talented experts in musical stage production while networking with theatres in Toronto, London and the US, to advance the production onto the world stage.
Some of its theme music has already made its debut in London, and the show could be on the road to Toronto by November.
Supported by Panama’s Tourism Authority it could also become an ongoing tourist attraction, emulating in its own way Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”, which, after a 65-year run in London is still a must-see for thousands of visitors each year.
Brown visualizes staging the musical in Panama during the peak tourist season each year, targeting visitors with the theme “You haven’t seen Panama until you’ve seen Panama the Musical”.
The production in English with some Spanglish intertwined is set in the “Roaring Twenties” some nine years after the completion of the canal. Dances like the Charleston, the foxtrot and black bottom were the rage, Jazz was becoming mainstream and the wondrous new fad, radio was spreading all things American to the world, and nowhere more so than the isthmus with its Canal Zone, packed with Americans whose culture and influence overlapped into the local community, setting the stage for potential romantic interaction, and the theme for the musical.
Ave July 4 (Avenida de Martires) bordering the Zone was the center of nightlife, and jammed with bars, cabarets and more dubious entertainment designed to syphon dollars from the pockets of “gringos” but also providing opportunities for those with dreams of making it big in showbiz.
Melody a young American would be songwriter and Tito a Panamanian musician join together to try to win a US broadcasting competition, but their hopes are dimmed by the intervention of a local cabaret owner who blackmail’s the songwriter’s younger sister into working for him. The struggle to protect her sister while advancing her career and romantic aims provides the plot for Panama’s first homegrown musical.
The team that Brown has assembled includes Composer playwright, Robert McQueen, who was Associate Director of the musical Mamma Mia on Broadway.
Monalisa Arias recently returned to her home country from the United States sees the production as her biggest challenge while opening the door to her greatest professional achievement.
Maestro Dino Nugent and international music supervisor, David Warrack are the musical directors.
The cast of Panamanian artists and musicians, will blend Latin dances and tempos with the music and dances imported from the north “Think Moulin Rouge meeting West Side Story on the Panama Canal” says Brown.
The cast includes recognized Panama performers like TV personality Gaby Gnazzo (Mama) and Julio Barsallo (Tito) and newly discovered talent like Alexandra Córdoba (Melody)