Above, ¡Viva Broadway!, AARP, and the New York Times presented an August 2013 panel discussion on the growing influence of Latinos working on Broadway. From left: moderator Tanzina Vega with Broadway veterans Sergio Trujillo, Quiara Alegría-Hudes, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Luis Salgado.
There is something so powerful about experiencing a Broadway show. For me, I effortlessly get lost in the awe of admiring some the finest acting and taking in the most bedazzling stage productions. My first Broadway memory is seeing, when I was in my mid-twenties, the classic The Phantom of the Opera. I got hooked from the opening scene.
As a U.S. Hispanic, I wanted to share the same joy with my family and friends, but to my surprise many of them were unaware of what was showing on Broadway. I always felt much of this had to do with the dearth of Broadway information coming from Spanish-language media.
As a former Univision anchor in New York, I took it upon myself to dedicate many of my efforts to getting our Spanish-speaking viewers to know more about Broadway, its shows, its stars and information on how to purchase tickets via a segment I created called “El Minuto Broadway.” This was not only a professional endeavor; it was a personal one. It was my way of helping get the word out, but I was aware more had to be done. Latinos love entertainment. They love going out and they love organizing it with the whole family — and yet, Broadway theater has historically been almost an alien concept to them.
Enter ¡Viva Broadway!, a brand-new initiative I helped develop with The Broadway League with the purpose of informing and attracting more Hispanic audiences to the Broadway theater. As most industries have realized, Hispanic purchasing power is the ticket to business growth and success, and ¡Viva Broadway! can help Broadway achieve both.
Perhaps the best example of Hispanic audiences showing their strong interest for the Broadway theater is 2008’s 13-time nominated, four-time Tony-winning musical phenomenon In the Heights. With music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, Latinos came out in droves to experience what a full-on Latino production looks like on the Broadway stage. For many, it felt like their culture, language, music and customs had broken through and been acknowledged by the Broadway world. It was a triumph that broke boundaries and perceptions that Latino stories could also achieve critical and box-office acclaim.
The question for many now is, What will be the next In the Heights that continues generating new Hispanic theatergoers? In Miranda’s eyes, he believes ¡Viva Broadway! can help answer that question: “When young people are exposed early on to Broadway, it inspires them. They see how many worlds can be created and how many different stories can be told on the stage. They become participants in the conversation. And if they think, Hey, I don’t see my story up there, I want my story to be told, they feel connected enough to the art form so that they study it and create within it and eventually bring more people and more voices into the process. ¡Viva Broadway! can help foster that connection and support Latino artists already building their careers, so we have all kinds of Latino writers, designers, directors and performers telling their stories before a Broadway audience.”
With so many Hispanics living in New York City and many traveling here, plus the changing demographics of Hispanics (over 60 percent of them U.S.-born), ¡Viva Broadway! has arrived at a great time to build a strong foundation upon which we can engage this fast, burgeoning market with the art and magic of the Broadway stage.
The Chairman of The Broadway League, Nick Scandalios, also feels enthusiastic about what ¡Viva Broadway!can offer now and in years to come.“What I love about ¡Viva Broadway! is that it has a short term impact and long term benefits. There is no reason that Broadway can’t have a million more visitors than the 12 million or so it already has.”
Ultimately, the biggest obstacle ¡Viva Broadway! needs to overcome is how to make Broadway more relevant to Hispanic families and their lifestyles. Awareness campaigns will be instrumental to that change, but perhaps the biggest catalyst will have to do with the stories told on stage. As Scandalios says, “It needs to be aspirational and organic, not exploitive. What I love about the project we’re doing with Gloria and Emilio Estefan is that its a fully lived life that is the American Dream, it’s aspirational, its barrier breaking nature, all these universal themes that has made up the fabric of what is America. You can come here and build a life, and give a huge contribution to the national fabric of who we are as people.”
Many more shows like In the Heights, Evita and the next Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical need to be produced more frequently in order to really begin building a habit of interest among Latinos. But we must be careful: It is not only about telling Hispanic stories, it’s about telling stories Hispanics like.
Here’s my dream: Years from now, when I call my parents and close Hispanic friends about painting the town red, the first thing they will say to me is, “How about going to see that great new Broadway show that just opened?” And to that I say: ¡Viva Broadway!
Photo courtesy The Broadway League.