Pioneering PBS series Qué Pasa, USA?, which in its comic portrayal of a Cuban family in Miami captured the American bilingual and bicultural experience, will have a comeback as a live theater production.
¿Que Pasa, USA? Today… 40 Years Later will debut at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center on May 17, 2018, with some of the original cast members. In response to brisk ticket sales for the May 17 and May 18 performances, matinee and evening shows on May 19 have just been added.
The show, which focused on culture clashes in a household shared by three generations of the Peña family, touched on topics ranging from racism to religion (one episode was titled “Santeria vs. Catholicism”), while following the family’s everyday foibles in Little Havana. All of the show’s dialogue was true-to-(Miami Cuban)-life bilingual — a feat that has not been repeated as successfully since on broadcast TV — and its portrayal of immigrant life in Miami at the time was both realistic and educational. (The producers of “¿Que Pasa, USA?” benefited from a grant designed to teach Cuban immigrants English.)
“For anyone who grew up in Miami, then the show means something,” says Nelson Albareda, the CEO of Loud and Live, which is producing the play in cooperation with PBS South Florida. The original sitcom aired on local station WPBT-Ch. 2.
“I remember watching it at my grandmother’s,” Albareda says. “Fast forward forty years and a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things have not changed.” Albareda adds that the story “applies to anyone who is an immigrant; it’s about the struggles of an immigrant family living together in a new country.”
The original cast included a young actor named Rocky Echevarria, who played the hunky Joe Peña. A few years later, using his new stage name Steven Bauer, he was cast as Manny Ribera in Scarface.
Bauer’s participation in the live production has not been announced, but Ana Margo, who played the family’s daughter Carmen, will appear; some of the other members of the original cast are also expected to perform in the new show.
While Albareda says that music will only play an incidental role in the production, we could expect a new version of the ¿Que Pasa, USA? theme song. The original song, a rumba-pop tune befitting the Miami Sound Machine era, was performed by the late Paquito Hechevarria, a great Cuban piano man who, like the patriarchs of the Peña family, came to Miami in the early 1960s.
Listen to the song in the TV show’s opening credits.