Papa Jay Love Letters
Papa Jay Love Letters – Eduardo Betancourt, Mariaca Semprún and Miguel Siso in Miami New Drama’s Papa Cuatro at the Colony Theatre. Andrés Manner’s photo
The cuatro, a tiny four-string guitar that is deceptively simple to play, seems too small and too innocent to contain the heart of a country. And still.
Papa Jay Love Letters
The quintessential Venezuelan instrument, the cuatro, is a connection to home for that country’s musicians — “without fail,” says Venezuelan-Canadian director Juan Souki. “But sometimes it’s also for non-musicians. A cuatro hanging on the wall of a Venezuelan house is an invitation to get together. It unites the group,” says Souki. For those who chose to emigrate, he adds, “it’s a reminder of rooting.”
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Papá Cuatro, the original world premiere of Miami New Drama, opens with previews on Thursday, July 7 and Friday, July 8, with opening night on Saturday, July 9 at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Souki describes the show as “something between a musical, a documentary and a house party”.
The director previously created Viva La Parranda, an immersive Venezuelan small-town music, food and culture experience presented by Miami New Drama in 2019. Papá Cuatro is a tribute to a group of virtuoso musicians, he explains.
“All very successful in their chosen discipline or instrument, who in recent years have left Venezuela and are rewriting their histories, rebuilding their lives,” says Souki.
The actors of Papá Cuatro are actress, singer and songwriter Mariaca Semprún; four player Miguel Siso; harpist Eduardo Betancourt; Mafer Bandola on the bandola, a pear-shaped stringed instrument related to the mandolin; and drummer and percussionist Adolfo Herrera.
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For the play-as-musical documentary, Souki interviewed the musicians, who have immigrated to South Florida in the last five or six years.
“In this group, you have people who were on billboards all over Venezuela, playing in big auditoriums, and today their music career continues, but it’s shared with being an Uber driver or working in construction,” Souki notes. “You are also in your early thirties who recorded an album before leaving Venezuela thinking about bringing a letter of introduction and six months after leaving they were winning a Grammy. Their stories coexist in the play and, little by little, as if by By chance, their songs also tell pieces of our history.”
The pieces create the fabric of Papá Cuatro, which is told in songs – original compositions and traditional works through which they share their history and their relationship with the instrument.
Semprún, the lead singer of Papá Cuatro, is a remarkably versatile performer. His credits include work in theater, film and television. She has performed a very varied repertoire as a singer, from songs by Mozart, Handel and Verdi to starring in programs about Edith Piaf and La Lupe. Semprún’s recording of “Soy Puro Teatro (Homenaje a la Lupe)” was nominated for the 2020 Latin Grammy.
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The cuatro, observes the performer, has been part of her life since she was a child. “I was in music school from a very, very young age, and cuatro was a required subject,” she recalls. “Without even thinking about it, it became part of my life,” she says.
Semprún talks about “Venezuelizing” her interpretations of Piaf and La Lupe, notably adding a cuatro to a medley of songs by the Cuban singer. “It wasn’t on the original recording, but if the cuatro isn’t there, it doesn’t sound entirely Venezuelan.”
“Like everyone else in the play, there is part of my personal history in this work”, says Semprún, who sees Papá Cuatro as “a musical documentary, an experience”.
“Maybe my story is a little more political because of how I left. My husband and I came to Miami for a week – and we’ve been out of the country for five years. We found out that the political police were waiting for our return, and we didn’t know what could happen if we went back – 2017 was a very dark time. So we decided to stay, and it was a very violent and unexpected adaptation process.”
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The interviews Souki conducted to build his piece are at the heart of Papá Cuatro and explore who the artists are.
“Who were they before they came, why did they come and where do they feel they are now in their (reinvention) process?” he says. “They are all living very different experiences, and their stories reveal the emigrant’s experience.”
Papa Four. Saturday, July 9, through Sunday, July 31, at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach;305-674-1040; miaminewdrama.org. Tickets cost from $45.50 to $71.50.
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