Andy Señor Jr., Henry Gainza, Janet Dacal and Alex Lacamoire, four Miami talents who have made it big in the cutthroat world of New York theater, have been friends for years.
Lacamoire, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical director and co-orchestrator of the Broadway smash In the Heights, was a New World School of the Arts high school piano star when he accompanied the Miami Coral Park Senior High cast of Godspell at a statewide theater festival in Tampa. In that cast were Señor, Gainza, Danny Pino (now a regular on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Pino’s future wife, Lily Bernal, actress Tessie Santiago and actor-turned-publicist Phillip Aleman.
From that long-ago connection, dreams were born, and one of them comes to fruition at 8 p.m. Saturday with Viva Broadway, the high-profile kickoff event for the new District Stage Company.
“That success with Godspell was incredible for us. It propelled us into taking theater more seriously,” says Señor, who played Angel in Rent on Broadway and on tour. “Everything has been going well for me. Yet I thought, ‘I have pockets full of gold, but I’m not sharing it.’ ”
Hence, District Stage Company, a troupe with Miami-centric plans that extend way beyond its splashy kickoff.
Viva Broadway is the first event funded by a Knight Arts Challenge Grant awarded to the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center for an initiative called Bring It Home Miami aimed at reconnecting established artists to their home community. And the one-night-only Viva Broadway event certainly does that.
With direction by Heidi Miami Marshall (yes, that’s the Broadway and film director’s real name) and musical direction by Lacamoire, the show features Tony Award winner Karen Olivo, Nina Lafarga, Jose-Luis Lopez, Eliseo Roman, Dacal, Gainza and Señor, with special guest Jon Secada. Woven into the fabric of an evening built around the theme of home are 14 Miami-Dade high school performers who won their roles through a New York-style audition.
Those young performers are Diana Valcarcel and Estephanie Cardenas of John A. Ferguson Senior High; Maria Bilbao and Hannah Schreer of Coral Reef Senior High; James Burgin, Elis Chirino and Maria Paula Gonzalez of New World; Austin Napoles, John Mazuelos, Natalie Torres, Christopher Rodriguez and Giovanni Tisera of Miami Killian Senior High; Jeanfranco Cardentey of Felix Varela Senior High and Isabel Signaret of Palmer Trinity.
Giving those aspiring talents a chance to sing alongside Broadway veterans is very much a part of District Stage Company’s mission.
“They’re seeing that we’re working professionals and it’s possible to come from Miami and build a career. ... It’s creating community off the bat,” Señor says. “We picked 14 kids, unique individuals that we designed the show around. We’re celebrating them.”
Says Gainza, “When I was in high school, if I’d been told I’d be in a show with anyone who’d been on Broadway, I would have been beside myself.”
The Viva Broadway program includes scenes plus dance and musical numbers, among them Señor in Enjoy the Trip from the musical Bring It On, Gainza in Maria and Secada in Somewhere from West Side Story, Secada and Dacal in You’re the One That I Want from Grease, Dacal in Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra and Dacal and Olivo — both of whom appeared in In the Heights on Broadway — singing the beauty-shop gossip song No Me Diga with several high school singers.