Posted | Comments Off
Choreographer Del Barrio shares experiences
BY WAYNE HARADA / Special to the Star-Advertiser
For Ramon Del Barrio, who is choreographing tonight’s Hawaii premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights,” theater is all about savoring the flavors and sharing the thrills.
‘IN THE HEIGHTS’
When: 7:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-March 9, 2 p.m. March 10 and 7:30 p.m. March 14-16
Where: Mamiya Theatre, Saint Louis School
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 739-4896
Del Barrio, of Argentine-Italian-Hungarian-Romanian-Austrian descent, tried out for the Lin-Manuel Miranda production — about the tightknit community of Hispanics in New York’s Washington Heights area — and has been sharing his experience of the audition process for a group of island high school actors to perhaps help them if they make the hop to the Big Apple for a stab at a play.
“We teach the kids about how it’s done professionally,” he said. “The kids are extremely talented; some of them may become young professionals going to the mainland. We help them understand the protocol.”
He got a second and third callback for the role of Kevin, the father in the musical, but was considered too young to land the part. His experience, however, has been helpful for island kids eyeing a future gig.
“Going through the process of trying out for a role, in a new Broadway musical, is all about feeling the music and getting caught up in the thrills,” he said.
Del Barrio is 48 and can play roles in the 35-to-50 range and even dance amid younger troupers.
“I can read for parts 10, 12 years younger, and while I could have done other younger roles in the show, I wanted to do Kevin, the father,” he said.
He has no regrets about not getting the part, because he learned a lot about auditioning, with a caveat: “With a name like Del Barrio, I get typecast; I would probably get more roles if my name was Smith.”
DEL BARRIO has emerged as a role model for the actors, who come from such schools as Maryknoll, Kaiser, Kaimuki, Punahou, Farrington and Sacred Hearts. To them he preaches responsibility. “They get the education of the craft, learn to be responsible, get to observe and absorb and grow,” he said.
Del Barrio was last on Broadway in a revival of “Guys and Dolls.” He also portrayed Billy Dixon in the Las Vegas company of “Jersey Boys” and was directing and choreographing a Broadway run of the Frankie Valli biomusical when he was approached about “In the Heights.”
Del Barrio eventually saw the show and knew it could resonate with local audiences. The story essentially is about Usnavi (played by Saint Louis student Patrick O’Toole), who operates a bodega in Washington Heights. Universal themes of family, community and self-discovery unfold amid a lively barrage of authentic Latin music.
“I grew up with this kind of music; I was born in New York and spent my earlier years in Los Angeles and Hawaii became my home after my parents split up 27 or 28 years ago and she moved here, married a local and even danced hula at the Lexington Hotel in New York,” said Del Barrio.
The musical features a character named Abuela Claudia (played by Monalyn Aparra of Farrington), who is a grandmotherly figure (“abuela” means “grandmother”) and the matriarch of the community, much like a tutu in Hawaii.
The love interest for Usnavi is Vanessa (portrayed by Kaena Kekoa of Sacred Hearts), who works in a salon and is trying to move out of the barrio but can’t afford it. It’s akin to a local hoping to leave the housing project.
Del Barrio said he hopes the sense of community will resonate with island audiences. “There are social and cultural issues about where is home and what is family, and the thought that with hard work, immigrants coming to America can succeed,” he said.
As a dancer and singer, Del Barrio has worked with some of the top names in showbiz. Among his reflections:
On Whitney Houston: “Every night before her concert, two guys — me and another guy — would stand next to her, shoulder to shoulder. She would look at us both and smile, with a mint or cough drop in her mouth, under her tongue. We’d escort her on stage, she’d sing and bring down the house, and when she was pau, she’d take the cough drop from under her tongue and chew it up. She often talked about the sacrifices she had to make, being a superstar.”
On Michael Jackson: “He came to see me when I choreographed ‘Sisterella’ in Pasadena. He knew my dad, Jorge Del Barrio, and told me, ‘You know what it’s like, making a connection on a level of a kid growing up in show biz.’”