Brooklynites will experience Puerto Rico in all its colors this summer at the theater.
“Bomba and the Coquí,” a brand new show celebrating Puerto Rican culture and pride with an original score, Bomba music, dance, bright and flowing costumes and a humorous script, will open in Park Slope on June 15.
The production is part of Piper Theatre Productions’ annual festival Musicals Now, an incubator program for fostering new musicals and debuting artists.
This summer, the theater company has selected a timely story that combines elements of magic and highlights the value of family and ancestry.
“Bomba and the Coquí,” by emerging writer and composer, Ana Garcia, a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, will feature an all-Latinx cast, to tell the story of a “mischievous” ten-year-old girl who discovers a magical frog only to have it stolen by her evil teacher. The young hero then embarks on an adventure with her grandfather to recover the frog.
“Bomba is about the journey this girl is in when she has, that moment we all have, of having to trust that inner voice,” said Omar Perez, project director. “She learns there is a way to be in this world, which has certain systems that make you comply in a certain way, but at another point in your life, you realize that there are some things that are unique to you and that you need to honor in order for you to be happy and successful.”
The musical is set in the rain forest and the performance is led by live Bomba music. The genre was the first native music of Puerto Rico, created in the sugar plantations by slaves more than 400 years ago, with a mix of beats from different regions of Africa, played mainly with different kinds of drums.
“There’s something about music that, if you don’t find yourself moving, you should get yourself checked out,” said Perez. “The colors are super important because we want it to feel very much like you’re in Puerto Rico. We wanted to recreate the mix of cement, nature and vibrant cloths as they exist together everywhere.”
The concept of working with new artists first came from the producer and founder of Piper Theatre, John McEneny. He started the company 23 years ago, in Yonkers and spent five years putting up free Shakespeare shows that would gather hundreds of people. He has been a drama teacher since 1997 at M.S. 51 William Alexander in Park Slope.
Perez has seen many talented actors get their first start coming out of M.S. 51, such as Jeremy Allen White, the star of the Hulu show, The Bear and Siddiq Saunderson, known for the Netflix show Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
The veteran producer’s principle of giving under-represented talent their first break guided the search for the cast of “Bomba and the Coqui.”
“This casting process was so invigorating,” he said. “Everyone is so incredibly talented and, I have to say that because we really were impressed with this generation of actors that came out to audition. It’s been such a wonderful thing.”
Casting the show’s star was especially challenging since the role called for a mezzo-soprano or a soprano who could act as — and resemble – a kid. They found their Bomba in Sabrina Lopez.
“Sabrina just really shined in,” said Perez. “She was great at performing as a ten-year-old Bomba, but she worked remarkably in an ensemble and really pulled out people’s talents and that stood out so much while we cast. The cast had to flow together because this play is about leaning on family, leaning on that ancestral knowledge that we haven’t fully put words to yet, but we all know exists, especially in Caribbean culture.”
While “Bomba” is a kid-friendly musical, the producer wants the message of the story to reach different generations who would benefit from reconnecting with their roots and families.
“This show is relevant in the sense that this is a time when adults and children are very much trying to figure out what is important in life,” Perez said. “There are a lot of questions that we have in the world. Very often, we can just try to get by each day. But seeing this, I think people will be able to recognize a lot more of themselves. I think it’s really familiar for any Latinx in America right now and it’s important for people living in places that are not too fond of immigrants in the country.”