Qué pasa, Steven Bauer?
The seasoned Hollywood actor, made famous as Manolo in the pop culture classic “Scarface,” has signed on to the theatrical reboot of the iconic public television show where he got his start, “¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.?”
Bauer, 61, will reprise his role as Joe Peña in “Qué Pasa, U.S.A. Today ... 40 Years Later,” set to open at the Arsht Center May 17, the show’s executive producer said. Bauer, who remains part of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” cast, made the announcement official at a press conference Wednesday.
“This is not just a show to me. This is a play about our lives,” Bauer said, his eyes filling with tears as he recalled a show that captured the Cuban immigrant experience of the 1970s and was, for many in Miami, as much documentary as drama.
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Adding Bauer means the stage production can wrap its story around the next generation of “Qué Pasa” characters, who were the teenagers on the 1970s television show.
“My idea is to bring the story back for future generations, like ‘Star Wars,’ or ‘Batman.’ It’s continuing the franchise,” producer Nelson Albareda said. “He was the missing link that we needed.”
Bauer joins actresses Ana Margo, who played his sister Carmen on the show, and Connie Ramirez and Barbara Ann Martin, who played her Catholic school friends. Together, they can stitch together a story that picks up with the teens as parents.
Bauer hinted that the aged Joe Peña will have lived a life very similar to his own: “I’ve been a gypsy. And that’s Joe’s story also. That’s what I want to bring to the role.”
The role is a homecoming of sorts for Bauer, who is still known in Miami by his given name, Rocky Echevarría. He has not acted in South Florida since leaving for Hollywood in the early 1980s, later starring in “Scarface” in 1983. During the new play’s run, Bauer will host a series of workshops similar to “Inside the Actors Studio” at The University of Miami, where he studied theater, with local high school and college acting students.
“It’s all about this city. Miami is home,” said Bauer, who visits Miami regularly and whose mother, who smiled at him from the audience, still lives in his childhood home in Westchester.
The original “Qué Pasa” was a cult classic and the first fully bilingual sitcom in television history. It told the story of the Peña family, recently arrived from Cuba in the late 1970s, as they faced adjusting to a new culture and language in Miami.
It first aired in Miami but eventually aired on more than 150 PBS stations across the country and was hailed by everyone from the New York Times to Los Angeles Times as better than most commercial sitcoms like it.
But controversy loomed offscreen of this beloved show, as detailed in a December Miami Herald story.
Its 39 episodes were a co-production of WPBT-2, with a grant from the U.S. government. But that stipulation made it so the creatives involved with the show — the original cast and writers — signed away their rights for a show that was supposed to be a non-profit venture.
However, over the years, WPBT-2 continued to use the show for marketing and fundraising and selling DVDs. Also, DVDs made from the original master copies are still being sold by a vendor that is not affiliated with WPBT-2 or the original production company.
The original cast never saw any proceeds. That left them feeling frustrated and betrayed, including the original writers Luis Santeiro and Pepe Bahamonde, and the actors who played the parents Pepe and Juana Peña. Even Bauer had his doubt at the beginning, which led to long conversations with original cast members, writers and Albareda.
“My first thought was, ‘Is this another in a long line of half-baked attempts to recreate the past?’ ” Bauer said.
Albareda, who said WPBT-2 granted him the rights to create the stage show, tried to make amends with Manolo Villaverde and Ana Margarita Martínez, who played the original parents. But they told Albareda the years of resentment were too much to bear to be part of this production. Bahamonde, however, even recommended the new show’s writer and wished the new cast success.
Villaverde, who played the father to Bauer’s character, became a real-life second father figure to Bauer. And Bauer wanted to make sure Villaverde was at peace with Bauer returning to the role.
“He told me, ‘Do it if you think this doesn’t taint the legacy of what we did,’ ” Bauer recalled. “I got his blessing and now I’m in full force.”