“I discovered that in fact dying is something that is going to happen,” the 59-year-old actor says in Spanish with a soft laugh as he shows a visitor around the theater, where construction has been finished just in time for this week’s premiere. “And that having money in the bank is nothing more than a Machiavellian intellectual exercise.” He waves his arms around the foyer, where a painting with a theatrical theme by a local artist, that includes hidden portraits of Banderas and his family members, takes up an entire wall. “This is something real.”
Banderas has pledged an annual 250,000 Euros (about $280,000), via a foundation, to the non-profit theater; he will perform, direct and take on administrative duties pro bono. Support from Banderas and name sponsor CaixaBank will “allow the venue to present quality programming, with complete freedom.” Banderas has brought Lluis Pascual, a titan of Spanish theater, from Barcelona to direct the Teatro Soho. (It was Pascual who gave Banderas his first break at Madrid’s National Theatre in 1981, some months before he was offered his first film role by Almodovar, im 1982's Labyrinth of Passion.)
With almost 40,000 advance tickets sold, the Teatro del Soho CaixaBank production of A Chorus Line is already a hit. After its Málaga run, the musical will be performed in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid, and Banderas has his sights set on New York -possibly at the Public Theater, where the musical based on the real stories of Broadway gypsies first opened in 1975- for what he calls the show’s “leap to America.”
“We want the show to be presented in Spanish,” Banderas says, referring to New York as “a city of accents,” whose multicultural make-up is reflected in the story of A Chorus Line, and also mirrored by the cast of the Málaga revival, which includes actors from Mexico and Germany as well as various parts of Spain. Though the revival is all-Spanish, the dazzling finale finds Banderas joining the line in glittering top hat and tails for the emblematic song “One” in its original English.
Estíbaliz Ruiz as Morales, Aaron Cobos as Mike, Kristina Alonso as Sheila, and Málaga native Pablo Puyol, who is a recognized TV actor and music reality show contestant in Spain, deliver some of the standout performances. But, keeping with A Chorus Line’s intention, the strength of the show is in the collective work of this young ensemble, selected from some 1800 hopefuls who answered the casting call.
While the book and lyrics have been adapted - by Spanish musical theater translation veterans Ignacio Garcia May and Roser Batalla – the show’s choreography, music and monologues remain faithful to Michael Bennett’s game-changing original, which ran on Broadway for 15 years. Baayork Lee, a member of the original cast whose own story shaped the character Connie, co-directed the production with Banderas, recreating the original choreography for the new production; original Chorus Line choreographer Bob Avian also flew in to serve as co-choreographer.
“It’s a leap back in time,” Banderas said, while taking a short break from rehearsals at the theater earlier this week. “We are presenting A Chorus Line as a classic, without other pretentions.” A 22-member orchestra, led by Málaga’s Arturo Díez-Boscovich interpret the Marvin Hamlisch score of now indelible pop show tunes, at times imprinted with the psychedelic rock and funky disco vibes of their time.
While those songs have proved to be timeless, the costume in this staging are pure retro – belted leotards and jazz pants from the days before super-stretch sculpting Spandex and Nike fitness. One actor wears a t-shirt announcing the Broadway TKTS booth in Times Square, which opened not long before the premiere of the original A Chorus Line. A svelte Banderas is clad in high-waisted slacks and a bicep-hugging mock turtle neck tee, a look he pulls off with some panache.
“I´ve always liked musical theater,” says Banderas, who was nominated for a Tony Award when he played Guido in a 2003 Broadway revival of Nine; he starred as Che opposite Madonna in the movie version of Evita. “For me it is so emotive, so beautiful, it takes you out of your reality and puts you into another world.
“I also like and I’ve done Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe or Bertolt Brecht. But musical theater always has a special sabor. I like to go to a theater and listen to an orchestra tuning up, it fills me with emotion.” Banderas has pledged that every production at the Teatro del Soho will be performed with live music. This past Tuesday night (Nov. 12), an audience that included journalists, drama students and guests of the actors attended a triumphant preview of A Chorus Line at the pristine theater, which in the weeks before had been a construction zone.
After the show, Banderas and the other members of the cast sat on the stage to take questions from the crowd. “We are all beat,” said a glowing Banderas, who made jokes about the many trials of the theater renovation process, and revealed backstage emotions during long rehearsals that sometimes mirrored the grueling casting depicted in A Chorus Line there were some tears.
“In our time it seems like if something is not recorded it doesn’t exist,” he commented, elaborating on his reasons for creating a theater in Málaga. “But theater is eternal. Memory grows inside you and creates something much more interesting. If theater has existed for 3000 years and it still exists, there is a reason for that.”
Banderas’ plan extends to cultivating young actors, directors, writers and others in the performing arts in his home town. He and the Teatro del Soho will be working in partnership with ESAEM, a high school and college of performing arts in Málaga, where a second, black box, theater will be located.
“A Chorus Line was a choice that for me was almost perfect because it sends a very specific message about actors and dancers and people involved in the performing arts from the inside, from a different perspective, where sacrifice comes together with dreams, with the pain that comes from struggling everyday with the banality in the determining moment of ‘if I choose you or I don’t choose you,” says Banderas, who remarked during the post-show presentation that “What I Did For Love” should be an anthem and “a call to resist... A Chorus Line gives you a fresco of different characters where there is a lot of diversity,” he adds. “It is a Broadway classic that changes the paradigm and puts the focus on the ones who aren’t stars.”